Kudos to Egypt

Critics who call the recent coup by the Egyptian army “undemocratic” are placing form over substance and forgetting that the election of Mohamed Morsi was itself arguably undemocratic. Because his Muslim Brotherhood party was the only organized political force running for office, there was little chance of meaningful political competition emerging in the mere six months between Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow and Egypt’s first free elections.

That fact might have mattered much less had Morsi used his presidency to promote individual freedoms and build democratic, power-sharing institutions. But Morsi reverted to the same undemocratic policies that he was elected to change. In effect, Morsi simply replaced a secular autocratic rule with an Islamist one.

Unsurprisingly, persecution of Egypt’s Christian minority worsened under Morsi. Also under Morsi, the Egyptian currency lost more than a tenth of its value, making it harder for Egypt to import fuel and food. Morsi shunned the tough decisions needed to reform the Egyptian economy and gain the confidence of the IMF and foreign investors.

Morsi’s Islamist leanings were also bad for non-beach tourism. Last month, Morsi decided that the new governor of the ancient city of Luxor would be Adel Mohamed al-Khayat, a man with ties to the Islamist group that massacred around 60 tourists in that same tourist destination in 1997. That decision might have solidified Morsi’s political power, but how could it possibly have benefited Egypt?

In August 2012, when Morsi became the first Egyptian leader to host an Iranian president since the 1979 revolution imposed an Islamic theocracy on Iranians, what signal did that send to Egyptians (and the rest of the world)? When Morsi attended a June 15 rally packed with fellow Islamists calling for jihad in Syria, how could that possibly serve Egypt, which can barely stay afloat much less enter foreign wars?

To the credit of Egypt’s people (and army), they swiftly reclaimed the power they had given to Morsi before he could take them any further down a dangerous path that was all too familiar for its autocratic ways, but far worse for its instability and rudderless economic descent.

As the most populous Arab state, Egypt’s single greatest challenge has for years been employing its population (now at 85 million). That problem intensified when tourism and foreign investment dropped precipitously after 2011, when the decades-long stability of Mubarak’s rule was replaced by the unknown. Unemployment for the first quarter of 2013 was an estimated 13.2%.

The country’s next leader, Adly Mansour, who was just sworn in as Egypt’s interim president, and whoever ultimately succeeds him, will need tremendous skill to restore the stability, security, tourism and investor confidence needed to revive the economy.

Full protection and equal treatment must be given to Egypt’s Christians, the largest religious minority and a vital and ancient part of Egypt. The Copts community and holy sites should be a source of Egyptian pride and can even help to revitalize Egyptian tourism by attracting Christian tourists, provided that the Copts’ legitimate political and security concerns are adequately addressed.

The taboo of dealing with Israel should also be overcome. Israel’s successful transition from an agricultural, low-tech economy to one based on entrepreneurial innovation can provide some inspiration and opportunity for joint ventures in tourism, textiles, cleantech and other sectors. Israel’s 65-year democracy may even have some useful experience with separating religion and state, keeping the peace among an ethnically and religiously diverse population, protecting individual liberties and developing democratic and power-sharing institutions. But to realize the full potential of the 1979 treaty, Egypt’s media and politicians must start treating the Israeli-Egyptian peace as a blessing rather than a curse.

Fixing Egypt could be a long and bumpy road, but at least the repairs have started.

See also, A Leader Who Responds

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