Haass On Egypt: It's Up For Grabs



Photo: ap

Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, looks at Egypt after the revolution.  He argues that the “political transition” needs to proceed carefully and that Egypt’s most difficult days are ahead.  He writes: Mubarak’s departure is a significant but not decisive development. To be sure, it closes a prolonged era of Egyptian politics. It also marks the end of the first phase of Egypt’s revolution. But it is only the end of the beginning. What begins now is the struggle for Egypt’s future. 

The objective must be to slow the political clock. Egyptians need time to build a civil society and open a political spectrum that has been mostly closed for decades. A hybrid, caretaker government, including military and civilian elements, may be the best way forward.  To slow the clock is not to stop it, however. A genuine political transition needs to move ahead, albeit at a measured pace.

Early elections should be avoided, lest those (such as the Muslim Brotherhood) who have been able to organise over the years enjoy an unfair advantage. The Muslim Brotherhood should be allowed to participate in the political process so long as it accepts the legitimacy of that process, the rule of law, and the constitution. The history and political culture of Egypt suggest a natural limit to the Brotherhood’s appeal if Egyptians can bridge their most important differences, maintain order, and restore economic growth.

Constitutional reform is critical. Egypt needs a constitution that enjoys broad support – and that includes checks and balances that make it difficult for minorities (even those who command the support of a plurality of voters) to rule majorities.

Revolutionary movements invariably split into factions. Their sole common objective is the ouster of the existing regime. As soon as this goal comes close to being achieved, elements of the opposition begin to position themselves for the second phase of the struggle and the coming competition for power. We are already beginning to see signs of this in Egypt and will see more in the days and weeks to come.

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