Concerns For Egypt’s Democratic Future


If Egypt’s popular uprising is to achieve its aspirations for a truly democratic society, street activism will need to be converted into inclusive, institutional politics, according to the International Crisis Group.

Popular Protest in North Africa and the Middle East (I): Egypt Victorious? , the latest report from the International Crisis Group, analyses the many challenges that lie ahead for a country that now needs to combine functioning, stable institutions with genuine political and socio-economic transformation. The more inclusive the process of designing its transitional order, the better chance it will have of achieving its goals without further unrest.


“The drama is not near its final act”, says Robert Blecher, Project Director with Crisis Group’s Middle East & North Africa Program. “A military council is in control, Egypt still faces many of the problems that contributed to this revolt, and protesters show continued ability to mobilise hundreds of thousands.”

To a significant degree, post-Mubarak Egypt reflects the legacy of the uprising in all its promise and uncertainty. The military role’s was decisive but ambiguous and remains so, threading a line between protecting its credibility and defending its business and institutional interests. The democracy movement’s lack of leadership and detailed program was an asset during the protests but could now become a liability. Public opinion was volatile, weary of the regime but concerned about instability; it could yet prioritise order over deep reform. The West neither anticipated events nor had much say, and its leverage remains limited.

Egyptians toppled Mubarak without much outside help and justifiably are reluctant to receive outside advice today. Still, some broad principles could usefully guide the transition:

  • To overcome lingering scepticism regarding their intent, military rulers could consider either sharing power with representative civilian forces or creating an inclusive civilian transitional advisory council;
  • To avoid old divisions, the democratic movement should try to institutionalise presence and pressure;
  • Independent, credible bodies could be set up to investigate charges of malfeasance by former regime officials, but there are risks in moving too fast before a fair judicial process can be set up;
  • Immediate steps could reassure civilian political forces, including lifting the state of emergency, freeing political prisoners and respecting rights to speech, assembly and association, including of unions.

“The challenge will be to ensure that vital decisions are taken with a broad consensus to minimise risks the current unity of purpose will fray”, says Elijah Zarwan, Crisis Group’s North Africa Senior Analyst.

The West can prove most useful by giving economic aid, avoiding attempts to micromanage the transition or select favourites and accepting that a democratic Egypt’s policy will be more assertive and independent.

Egyptians can take much pride. Their example encourages others; political space is open to a degree unprecedented in the lifetimes of those who took to the streets. This arguably is their greatest achievement.

“One need only look at what already is happening in Yemen, Bahrain or Libya to appreciate the degree to which success can inspire”, says Robert Malley, Crisis Group’s Middle East & North Africa Program Director. “But disenchantment can be contagious, too. Mubarak’s ouster was a huge step. What follows will be just as fateful”.

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