“From an American perspective, the situation in Egypt is a nightmare,” according to Robert Satloff and Eric Trager, respectively executive director and fellow at of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
The newly elected Islamist majority’s plans to implement Shariah law at the expense of political pluralism and religious and minority rights, they contend. Defending such rights – especially for Coptic Christians, “the canaries in Egypt’s coal mine” – will determine the fate of the transition.
“A narrow focus on protecting pluralism and minority rights, rather than a broader and more diffuse effort to grow Egypt’s democratic institutions, is easier to maintain, more conducive to a sticks-and-carrots assistance policy, and more likely to keep open future political alternatives,” they suggest.
But fears that that the Arab Spring has become an Islamist Winter are overblown, says Martin S. Indyk, the Brookings Institution’s Vice President and Director for Foreign Policy. He disputes the conventional wisdom that Arabs cannot sustain liberal democracy and require centuries to develop “democratic culture,” suggesting that recent developments may be to the strategic advantage of the US – and Israel:
In short, what is happening in Egypt confounds expectations and renders dismissive assumptions about its democratic revolution at best premature, at worst both wrong and misleading as a guide to appropriate American (and Israeli) policy. Free elections and dire circumstances have quickly generated a surprising pragmatism among Egypt’s newly empowered political actors. They understand that they need the goodwill of the United States. At a time of supposed decline in American influence in the Middle East, we suddenly find ourselves with new possibilities in democratic Egypt — the largest, military most powerful, culturally most influential, geostrategically most important country in the Arab world.
Although Egypt’s ruling military today transferred legislative authority to the new assembly, it will remain a central player in the new political dispensation, says Georgetown University professor Paul Sullivan – not least because of its economic leverage:
A glimpse of the military’s economic might emerged last week when the government-run media reported that the military had provided $1 billion to the Egyptian government’s central bank to help prop up its faltering currency. It has raised a question by economists and military analysts alike as to how many militaries in the world have sufficient revenue to bail out their own government?
Newly-elected liberals like Amr Hamzawy, a former analyst at the Carnegie Middle East Center and political science professor at Cairo University, want greater transparency and accountability of the military’s economic holdings:
This, Hamzawy told GlobalPost, is why “they are keen on securing their economic assets” by trying to preserve the remnants of the old regime that will allow them to continue to avoid transparency and accountability to parliament. …But Sullivan cautions that the US will have to tread carefully in pushing the military to reform.
“It’s a dangerous moment, and the last thing we want to is inject ourselves into a highly emotional and time and create a wave of anti-Americanism. And so if we want to retain a reasonable, productive relationship with Egypt we have to support the democratic movement and encourage the military to be part of that,” he said.
“We should engage cautiously and quietly with the Muslim Brotherhood,” he added, “even if there is legitimate concern about what the Muslim Brotherhood will do when they get a taste of power.”