Last Updated: Mon Jun 20, 2011 00:26 am (KSA) 21:26 pm (GMT)

‘Egypt will not be a liberal democracy.’ Special Report by Anne Allmeling

Egyptians Demand Democracy in Tahrir Square. (File photo)
Egyptians Demand Democracy in Tahrir Square. (File photo)

Five months after President Hosni Mubarak was ousted from office, Egypt’s transition to democracy proves to be anything but easy. The military, which took power after the popular revolt toppled the president in February, is still in control, the presidential elections have been rescheduled, political parties are struggling to get organized, and the country is facing severe economic problems. With only three months to go until the parliamentary elections, what are Egypt’s major issues?

“The economic challenges are huge and looming,” said Dalia Mogahed, Director of the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, in an interview with Al Arabiya.

Following the uprisings at the beginning of the year, Egypt’s economic development has slowed down significantly. Budget deficits are currently being balanced by Saudi-Arabia. The Egyptian economy experienced capital flight, a lack of foreign investments and a crisis of the tourism industry. In addition, demands for social security and higher salaries – legitimate as they are – have made Egypt less competitive.

According to the center’s study “Egypt: From Tahrir to Transition,” a “great deal of discontent among the population” could arise if the economic situation does not improve.

“People want freedom but they also want to feed their families,” said Shadi Hamid, Director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center. “The economic situation will improve but it will take a long time for the economy to bounce back. People are bound to be disappointed.” Their high expectations for economic improvement will be a challenge for any future government.

Contrary to many people’s belief at the beginning of the year, Egypt is not likely to transform into a Western-style democracy. Unlike the countries of Eastern Europe in the 1990s, Egypt does not have a regional power like the EU as a role model which could offer huge incentives to move in a specific direction.

“Egypt will not be a liberal democracy,” says Mr. Hamid. “The country is definitely going in a more Islamist direction. The Muslim Brotherhood will play a major role in the government and it is calling for a civil state with an Islamic reference.”

With view to observers in the West, Mr. Hamid adds: “People should stop to project their own desires on Egypt. Instead, the US and Europe should start to engage with Islamist groups as soon as possible and exchange their views. They should be ready for an Egypt that may be less compliant to their interests.”

For the past few months, the Muslim Brotherhood has dominated Egypt’s political scene. The party has not only aligned with the military but is also considering to cooperate with the more liberal Wafd party, Egypt’s oldest party, which played a leading role in the pre-Nasser years prior to 1954.

The vacuum that was created by dissolving president Mubarak’s National Democratic Party cannot be easily filled by small leftist and liberal groups that have developed during the prostest movement.

A group of Egyptian non-governmental organizations is backing the Tunisian model of transition, demanding that a new constitution should be drafted before parliamentary and presidential elections take place.

“We are campaigning for constitution first,” says Ahmed Maher, co-founder of the April 6 movement and a prominent participant in the anti-Mubarak demonstrations.

He is currently trying to convince as many parties as possible to back this model of transition. It would allow them more time to get organized, to compete with the Muslim Brotherhood and to stand up to background influence of the generals.

“Polarization between Islamists and liberals is a big problem,” says Mr. Hamid. “The liberals are worried about the Brotherhood’s influence. They fear that if the elections happen in September, the Muslim Brotherhood will sweep.”

However, Dalia Mogahed does not fear a totalitarian Islamist state in Egypt. “I don’t think that this is a real threat,” she says. “What is much more likely – because of the failure of a responsible security system and a lack of strong institutions – that we have a democracy that doesn’t fulfill either the promises of democracy or the security of a dictatorship and that they end up with the worst of both worlds.”

Whether or not Egypt develops into a democracy depends on the Egyptians and their wish to support a democratic political system.

(Anne Allmeling is a contributor to Al Arabiya English. She can be reached at: anne.allmeling@gmx.de)

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