Egypt will set the pace again - By Francis Matthew - April 21, 2011

The whole of the Arab world is watching with great interest to see how politics will develop in Egypt over the next few months. There is a fiery debate starting in which the emerging political parties from all sorts of backgrounds are following two separate strands of dialogue. First, they are arguing about the structure of government they want as Egypt resets its whole state apparatus. But the parties also have to discuss a second strand of dialogue: what policies the future government should follow.
It is very encouraging that so far the parties have been very open about their manifestos, and offered the public some detailed ideas. This has taken the Egyptian political debate well beyond the simplistic appeals to nationalism or sectarianism which unfortunately dominate Iraqi or Lebanese politics.
The possible development of Egypt as a new independent force in the Arab world is being watched by Saudi Arabia in particular with great concern. The Saudis are close allies of the Americans, like former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, and they were deeply shocked at the speed that Obama's administration dumped Mubarak with little effort to save him.
Over the past decade the Saudis have stepped into the vacuum created by Egypt's pro-American absence and built themselves a leading position in the region, and they do not know how the new Egypt might change this very important dynamic. The Arab Peace Initiative was a Saudi initiative, as were the Taif Accords which helped end the Lebanese civil war, as were several attempts to achieve reconciliation between Hamas and Fatah in Palestine.
And the Saudis are also very conscious of their role as the main force to stop the growing influence of Iran in the Arab world, as they see Iranian influence spreading in south Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq, and more recently in Bahrain.
Whatever the Egypt will be, it will be determined by Egyptians voting on mainly domestic issues. The winners in the September elections will be the parties that appeal to the average Egyptian, offering the promise that his and her concerns will be tackled fairly. So it matters a lot to the region what the various emerging Egyptian political parties are offering their domestic audience on issues like stopping police brutality, the repeal of the state of emergency, transparent elections and action against corruption, as well as economic issues like high unemployment, food price inflation, and setting decent minimum wages.
Would-be presidential candidate Mohammad Al Baradei has taken a strong, independent and anti-American line on regional issues, but has been a lot more vague about his domestic vision.
On April 9, he tweeted that "continued trust between army and people vital to national unity", arguing that the road to stability is "quick responses to legitimate demands, power sharing with civilians during transition, a clear road map, and national dialogue".
Many secular groups have been terrified of the Muslim Brotherhood. They fear both its ability to organise, and to use religion to appeal to the rural poor, who make up over half of Egypt's population. The Brotherhood has said it wants a civil state with an Islamic identity. And although that might sound fairly moderate, the level of distrust soared after a speech by Mahmoud Ezzat, the Brotherhood's deputy supreme guide, in Cairo's massive northwest suburb, Imbaba.
Wave of outrage
Ezzat said that the Brotherhood wants to apply Sharia in Egypt, and he was quoted saying "the enforcement of Sharia punishments will need time, and will only come after Islam is planted in every heart and masters the life of people, and then Islamic punishments can be applied".
This speech caused a wave of outrage across Egypt whose heterodox traditions do not include bending the legal structures to fit one interpretation of Islam. The furious row forced Ezzat to deny that he meant what Masry Al Youm had quoted.
Khalid Abdul Hamid, one of the leaders of the secular January 25 Revolution Youth Coalition, says he is not worried about the Brotherhood. He treats the Brotherhood as part of the movement for change, but adds that "later the Egyptian people will be able to judge the group not only according to how near or far they are from religion, but how seriously they tackle economic and social problems that the majority of the people face."
But all eyes are on the young people who inspired the Tahrir Square protests, and the key question is whether they can carry the political momentum started by their protests into a more normal political life. The informal alliance of protesters has moved quickly to organise into the January 25 Revolution Youth Coalition, which includes six youth groups.
As well as making broad political statements, it is important for its long term success that the Coalition has put forward very precise political demands, like on April 4 when it demanded that the governors and the presidents of the universities be dismissed; that local councils be dissolved; that the assets of the former National Democratic Party like its headquarters be put into public ownership; and that the interim authorities should withdraw the nomination of Mustafa Al Fiki to be Secretary General of the Arab League.
It is an interesting straw in the wind that a few days later about half the governors were on notice, the NDP's building was taken over by the government, and Al Fiki will not go to the Arab League.

Source :

No comments:

Post a Comment