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Liberals Needn’t Fear Egypt’s President Mursi – OpEd


By Linda Heard

The build-up to Sunday’s announcement as to the winner of the presidential elections was a televised cliffhanger that kept me glued to the screen. Like a substantial proportion of the Egyptian electorate, I had been tentatively rooting for Ahmed Shafiq as the most experienced candidate who had vowed to maintain law and order although the thought of a man considered a remnant of the ousted regime taking charge hardly filled me with enthusiasm.

Yet I also feared that the nation would erupt into violence were he to succeed in taking the top spot. A call from my bank manager warning Egyptian banks had a contingency plan to close indefinitely along with the bourse ­— and media reports that people were stocking up on groceries did little to quell my concerns.

When the long-anticipated result was finally pronounced, I instinctively buried my head in my hands just as the 49 percent of Egyptians (most reluctantly) ticked their ballots for Shafiq presumably did. But on reflection, the outcome was not only the just conclusion of a relatively fair and free election process. It also spelled the best hope for the nation’s stability at this moment in time.

Raw emotion aside, it’s a good thing that a conservative Islamist now has an opportunity to prove his capabilities and show that he can, indeed, be a president for all Egyptians without discrimination. If he doesn’t live up to his pledge to form a unity government able to represent the interests of Islamists, moderates, liberals and Christians as well as society’s poorest sector, his tenure will be short.

An engineer by profession who studied in the US, hopefully he will be well aware of his own inexperience in governance and international diplomacy. He must listen to advice and surround himself with top politicians from all sides of the political spectrum to be successful. If his call for the nation to unite is more than just hot air, he must go out of his way to woo the moderates and assure investors and the business community that he has their well being at heart before the wealthy elites pack their cases and bail-out cash in hand. He might look to Turkey’s Islamist government as a role model; a government that has guided their country towards stability and prosperity – and inspired worldwide respect.

Moreover, the somewhat paranoid worries of the vehemently anti-Brotherhood camp that Egyptians will wake up one day to find themselves living in a clone of Afghanistan or Iran are unfounded. Even if Mursi was so inclined he won’t have enough power at his elbow to effect sweeping changes. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has made sure of that by shoring up its own powers prior to the vote. The Islamist-dominated parliament that was frankly a laughing stock, characterized as a vegetable souk rather than a serious legislative body, was dissolved. Likewise, the constituent assembly had been disbanded due to the inability of conservatives and moderates to agree on the drafting of a new constitution, leaving SCAF the responsibility of appointing a more representative constituent body.

The bottom line is that the SCAF retains more constitutional, legislative and executive powers than it enjoyed during Mubarak’s “reign” and will be in no hurry to relinquish them to an untried president who has been whipping up his followers to protest military rule and rail against judicial decisions. Latterly, the SCAF has been flexing its muscles with severe warnings that it is no longer prepared to tolerate violent dissent threatening Egypt’s integrity while military officers have been given powers to arrest troublemakers who will be brought before military tribunals.

The belief is that Mursi will be obliged to toe the military’s line else trigger an army coup. It’s doubtful that the country’s uniformed top brass were celebrating Sunday’s announcement; they would have preferred to put the country in the care of Shafiq, one of their own. It appears that the delay in announcing the winning candidate was due to backroom dealing with Mursi, which is naturally denied by both sides.

If the SCAF had been tempted to manipulate the count at any stage in the game, they would have been thwarted by paperwork signed and stamped by the electoral monitors, which was flourished by the Brotherhood. Moreover, SCAF would have taken into account that any skewing of the votes would result in Brotherhood supporters erupting with outrage and finger-wagging from the international community. It’s interesting that Mursi has now resigned from the Brotherhood so that he can take decisions with impartiality, unencumbered by ideology or the organization’s diktats. Whether that’s a ploy to court the nervous or one of SCAF’s stipulations is yet to be seen. Mursi has also promised to construct “a modern, constitutional” state and to honor international treaties, including the Camp David peace agreement with Israel.

An uneasy calm enshrouded Egypt the day after; there is a general wait and see mood among the population and relief that people won’t have to barricade themselves in their homes, at least in the short term. The Bourse has rallied; a good sign. The cabinet is due to resign when Mursi will disclose the names of his team. A dream team would include his former rivals former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei, former Arab League head Amr Moussa and the popular leader of the Nasserist Party Hamden Sabahi. But I suspect Mursi would have a tough time persuading them to come on board.

The air is thick with anticipation and apprehension that is tempered by hope and optimism. Mursi requires strong shoulders to carry the burden of great expectations. If he fails to provide economic opportunities and jobs, if he reneges on his promises to reduce poverty or introduces policies that will keep foreign investment and tourism away, it will be a different story four years down the road. In the meantime, the Egyptian people deserve to be congratulated on achieving a peaceful transition to democracy.

I can but wish them and their new president the very best of luck.

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Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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