Egyp­tians grap­ple with po­lit­i­cal over­haul

The Financial Daily - - MONEY & FOREX -

Egypt's pol­i­tics have been trans­formed since Hosni Mubarak was top­pled on Feb. 11 but the prospect of elec­tions may put rem­nants of his rul­ing party and an es­tab­lished Is­lamist group in the driv­ing seat for now.

Torn be­tween the de­sire for sta­bil­ity and a full purge of the sys­tem which could ex­tend tur­moil that has cost the econ­omy bil­lions of dol­lars, many Egyp­tians have opted for the for­mer.

That was what a ref­er­en­dum held on March 19 sug­gested when 77 per­cent of the vot­ers backed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments drawn up by a com­mit­tee ap­pointed by Egypt's rul­ing mil­i­tary coun­cil.

More rad­i­cal re­form­ers, in­clud­ing youth groups who led the up­ris­ing that erupted on Jan. 25, wanted a ' No' vote and an en­tirely new con­sti­tu­tion. For them, the rev­o­lu­tion is still in­com­plete.

But the mere fact Egyp­tians took part in a vote in which the re­sult was not a fore­gone con­clu­sion be­fore polling sta­tions opened is tes­ti­mony to Egypt's trans­for­ma­tion from the 30 years of Mubarak's rigged vot­ing, po­lice re­pres­sion and cor­rup­tion.

"There is no doubt there have been ma­jor de­vel­op­ments like changes in the con­sti­tu­tion, a new law for po­lit­i­cal par­ties, free­dom of ex­pres­sion has been granted but still more needs to be done," said po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Mustapha alSayyid.

"The out­come of the rev­o­lu­tion will ap­pear af­ter elec­tions. We will see if the peo­ple be­hind the rev­o­lu­tion suc­ceeded in reach­ing power to do what they want, or if it is rem­nants of the for­mer regime, or if Is­lamists take power," said Sayyid.

Youth groups and other protest move­ments which had drawn millions of Egyp­tians onto the streets, of­ten us­ing the Web and so­cial me­dia to mo­bilise, now have lit­tle time be­fore a par­lia­men­tary elec­tion set for Septem­ber to turn them­selves into more for­mal po­lit­i­cal par­ties.

The Mus­lim Brother­hood, with a broad base de­spite decades of re­pres­sion un­der Mubarak, is best placed to cap­i­talise. Rem­nants of Mubarak's old party net­work of no­ta­bles in ru­ral ar­eas, lo­cal coun­cil of­fi­cers and busi­ness exec- utives are also well placed.

Seek­ing to as­suage fears, the Brother­hood has said it will not seek a par­lia­ment ma­jor­ity this time or run for pres­i­dent.

"So far, the rev­o­lu­tion is def­i­nitely in­com­plete. It has only ac­com­plished 10 per­cent of its de­mands," Sayyid Abu El Ela from the Jan­uary 25 Youth Revo­lu­tion­ar­ies told Reuters.

ROLE MODEL "Now the peo­ple have re­treated and their will has switched to a rev­o­lu­tion of re­form, not of change. But the youth will con­tinue to push for change," he said.

How Egypt nav­i­gates the tran­si­tion will have a wider im­pact.

Tu­nisia's re­volt may have pre­ceded the Egyp­tian protests and Libya may be grab­bing head­lines for the vi­o­lence wrought, but de­vel­op­ments in the Arab world's most pop­u­lous coun­try will re­ver­ber­ate more pro­foundly across the Mid­dle East.

"What hap­pens in Egypt is ex­tremely im­por­tant for the re­gion. If there is sta­bil­ity in Egypt, then it rubs off on oth­ers. It is like a role model," said Kam­ran Bokhari, re­gional di­rec­tor for Strat­for.

The army has shown lit­tle in­ter­est in stay­ing in gov­ern­ment, even though all Egypt's pres­i­dents since the monar­chy was over­thrown in 1952 were of­fi­cers. The army has pushed for swift elec­tions.

But even when the of­fi­cers re­turn to bar­racks, the mil­i­tary is ex­pected to loom in the back­ground. Bokhari said it could take a be­hind-the-scenes po­lit­i­cal role as Tur­key's army did for decades or as Pak­istan's mil­i­tary still does.

"The rev­o­lu­tion that peo­ple talk about is a very in­com­plete one. They re­moved the pres­i­dent and trans­ferred power to the armed forces," said one West­ern diplo­mat.

But the po­lit­i­cal changes are nonethe­less dra­matic.

Mubarak and his fam­ily are un­der house ar­rest in the re­sort of Sharm elSheikh, the rul­ing Na­tional Demo­cratic Party is in tat­ters, the feared State Se­cu­rity agency has been scrapped and the cabi­net con­tains no one un­ac­cept­able to the revo­lu­tion­ar­ies.

Sev­eral for­mer min­is­ters and other top party or gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials are in de­ten­tion and oth­ers are be­ing probed over their busi­ness deal­ings. New par­ties of many colours are tak­ing shape, in­clud­ing one that will rep­re­sent the Brother­hood.

Con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments ap­proved in the ref­er­en­dum may not go as far as rad­i­cals wanted, but still re­shape the land­scape.

The amend­ments restrict the pres­i­dent to two four-year terms, make it eas­ier for in­de­pen­dents to run for the pres­i­dency and re­store ju­di­cial su­per­vi­sion of votes, a guar­an­tee against rig­ging prac­tised by the NDP and po­lice in 2005 and 2010. ECO­NOMIC CHAL­LENGES Rad­i­cals still see more to be done. An emer­gency law, in­tro­duced af­ter Mubarak's pre­de­ces­sor was as­sas­si­nated by Is­lamists in 1981, has still not been lifted. The army promised it would go be­fore elec­tions but has not been more pre­cise.

Also rais­ing con­cern is a law re­strict­ing strikes by in­creas­ingly as­sertive Egyp­tian work­ers. The gov­ern­ment says it is to stop a wave of protests over low wages that have crip­pled the econ­omy. Ac­tivists see it as an at­tack on new found free­doms.

Get­ting the econ­omy back on track is one of the big­gest chal­lenges for who­ever rules. Egypt's young pop­u­la­tion wants both more po­lit­i­cal open­ness and new eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties, in­stead of the wealth di­vi­sions that grew wider un­der Mubarak.

The new Man­power Min­is­ter Ahmed El Bo­rai out­lined the scale of chal­lenge in meet­ing that de­mand. He put un­em­ploy­ment at 19 per­cent, roughly dou­ble the fig­ure Mubarak's cabi­net de­clared.

Eco­nomic dis­rup­tions since Jan­uary will cut eco­nomic growth to 3.5 to 4 per­cent of na­tional out­put in the year to June, from ear­lier es­ti­mates of 5.8 to 6 per­cent. An­a­lysts say Egypt needs at least 6 per­cent sim­ply to cre­ate enough work for new job en­trants.

Tourism, which usu­al­lly gen­er­ates over $10 bil­lion a year, is only just start­ing to re­cover from Jan­uary's mass ex­o­dus.

Many fac­to­ries op­er­ated at well be­low ca­pac­ity in Fe­bru­ary be­cause of cur­fews and in­se­cu­rity For­eign in­vestors, who had poured in bil­lions of dol­lars, are now keep­ing their dis­tance un­til Egypt's po­lit­i­cal fu­ture be­comes clearer.

If they are to main­tain their drive for a deeper po­lit­i­cal over­haul, new groups, mainly lib­er­als and those op­posed to the Brother­hood's Is­lamist agenda, need time to or­gan­ise and mo­bilise sup­port­ers af­ter decades in the wilder­ness.

Mubarak cracked down hard on lib­eral chal­lengers, partly so that he could por­tray the Brother­hood as the only al­ter­na­tive to his own au­toc­racy, a choice that helped se­cure him the sup­port of the West who have proved fear­ful of Is­lamists in power.

Anal­y­sis of the ref­er­en­dum re­sults show that the ' No' votes were con­cen­trated in ur­ban ar­eas with rel­a­tively high lit­er­acy, sug­gest­ing that the ar­gu­ments of the young revo­lu­tion­ar­ies did not have much im­pact in ru­ral ar­eas where il­lit­er­acy is wide­spread and peo­ple take less in­ter­est in pub­lic af­fairs.

Lib­er­als were quick to blame their rel­a­tively poor show­ing on scare sto­ries spread by con­ser­va­tives, along the lines that vot­ing 'No' would lead to pro­longed chaos.

Many ' Yes' vot­ers in the ref­er­en­dum said they were guided, not by Is­lamists or other po­lit­i­cal forces, but by a de­sire to see a quick re­turn to civil­ian gov­ern­ment and more em­pha­sis on law and or­der and on stim­u­la­tion of the econ­omy.

Mo­hamed Mustafa, who voted 'Yes' in Cairo's sub­urb of Maadi, said the calls from more rad­i­cal re­form­ers for writ­ing a new con­sti­tu­tion would take too much time. "So we should leave that till later. We need the coun­try to move ahead now," he added.

Mah­moud Salem, a lib­eral who blogged against Mubarak for years un­der the pseu­do­nym Sand­mon­key, said the protest move­ment had lost touch with or­di­nary peo­ple's as­pi­ra­tions.

"You care about the rev­o­lu­tion and the ar­rest of NDP fig­ures and get­ting the coun­try on the right track. They care about eco­nomic se­cu­rity, the re­turn of sta­bil­ity and nor­malcy the fastest way pos­si­ble," he wrote.-Reuters

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