The election of a new Islamic President offers a chance for Egypt to escape its violent and autocratic past.
Egypt has witnessed spectacular events in history. The recently-deposed (and now severely ill) President Hosni Mubarak was seen by many as a mini-’Pharaoh,’ a reincarnation of the Biblical figure whose rule was destroyed by Moses and his Jewish slaves. The Muslim Brotherhood’s electoral victory in Egypt’s first democratic election is a small reminder of Egypt’s history and how its victors and victims can alternate.
With the presidential election result declared and Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party as the winner, Egypt has entered a new phase of its recent turbulent journey. The fear and anxiety that the military (which has just grabbed more power) might play another dirty trick to thwart the people’s aspiration for democracy is temporarily over. Tahrir Square, the epicenter of popular public expression, has once again shown Egypt’s best.
Can Egypt now leave its recent dark times behind and reclaim its past glory? Can it make history again?
It all depends on the man who has been elected as president. How will he and his party lead the new Egypt? If he can genuinely become the president of all Egyptians — Muslims, Copts and secularists — with honesty, competence and political wisdom as well as political pragmatism, then the Arab uprising that started 18 months ago will send an avalanche of hope across the Middle East.
The question is: Can he and his party deliver?
The challenges that he faces are both enormous and complex, political, economic and social. And each one of them is colossal. The Establishment, in the shape of the armed forces, has massive political power. With 40 percent of the national budget at its disposal, the military is not going to give up power altruistically; rather, it may try to find ways to hijack the democratic process and turn the clock back to the past. The dire economic situation has already put the Egyptian people’s backs to the wall: If jobs and wages are not forthcoming, they will not be too patient with Morsi. His electoral honeymoon could be short.
Morsi’s difficulty is he is not yet aware of his presidential power. In a decree termed by many as a constitutional coup d’etat, the generals in the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) recently deprived the future president of ‘power over budgets, internal affairs or the Army.’ SCAF built its political and economic powerbase in the same manner as many absolute monarchs in nearby Arab countries: There is a tendency to think they and the country are one and the same.
Morsi has an advantage, however: time. If he can keep the Egyptian people on his side, the military will have to think twice. The Brotherhood has already asked for Parliament to be reinstated; for the military’s right of arrest of civilians to be rescinded; and a new constitutional assembly formed. The SCAF refused and the Brotherhood returned to Tahrir Square. It seems likely, therefore, that the battle of wills between Morsi and the generals will continue. A political horse-trading will emerge now in which Morsi and Brotherhood cannot afford to blink. His pledge to national unity and his promise that he will work for the whole of Egypt needs to be translated into action.
Will Morsi “blink” though? He is an academic, relatively new to this murky political game. He will need extraordinary political acumen to extract sufficient Presidential power from the SCAF to succeed as President.
So far he has displayed a certain political wisdom. Within hours of the election result, Morsi came on the national TV and declared that his priorities will be ”social justice, freedom and human dignity”. He pleaded for unity of the Egyptian people, saying: “This national unity is the only way to get Egypt out of this difficult crisis.”
After decades of mismanagement, ineptitude, corruption, political violence and slavish foreign policy, the Arab and Muslim worlds are now looking towards Egypt. The rest of the world is also waiting to see what President Morsi does. In spite of the Brotherhood’s negative image in the West, Western leaders have been quick to congratulate him. It is time they use their economic and political leverage to help Egypt in its transition from anarchy and corruption to a fully-fledged democracy, for the interest not only of Egypt but for a better Middle East.