There are clear and disturbing signs that Egypt’s democratic transition is in danger, says a leading analyst.
“Loud grumblings can be heard all over Egypt. There is even nostalgia for autocratic rule and some are calling for a return of the military,” writes Hafez Ghanem (right), the head of the Brookings Institution’s Arab Economies project:
According to the Pew Center’s “Global Attitudes Project” more than 70 percent of Egyptians are unhappy with the way the economy is moving, 33 percent feel that a strong leader is needed to solve the country’s problems, and 49 percent believe that a strong economy is more important than a good democracy. The number of people disillusioned with the revolution is likely to increase as the economy weakens further.
In addition to freedom and dignity, the young people who started the Egyptian revolution on January 25, 2011 were demanding better living conditions and greater social justice,” Ghanem writes for Real Clear Politics:
Their demands are far from being met as economic growth has declined and unemployment has risen (figure 1). Industrial growth which was at a healthy 5-7 percent a year before the revolution has fallen to about 1 percent, and the official unemployment rate rose from 9 to 12.5 percent. About 95 percent of the unemployed are youth with at least a secondary education. Nearly three-quarters of those who are lucky enough to find jobs end up working in the informal sector where wages range between $2.60-3.70 per day.
Ending corruption was a key demand of the revolutionaries, Ghanem notes, but graft has increased since the revolution, with data from the Worldwide Governance Indicators (WGI) showing deterioration in corruption safeguards.
The transition is also suffering from the growing sectarianism and authoritarianism on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government, say observers.
President Mohamed Morsi’s decision not to attend this Sunday’s Coptic Easter mass was entirely predictable, writes a leading analyst.
“Morsi, after all, declined to attend Pope Tawadros II’s November investiture and, during his previous stint as chairman of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political party, Morsi visited a church on Christmas but made a point of emphasizing that he exited before services started,” Eric Trager writes for The Atlantic:
Yet because Morsi’s decision comes on the heels of a Brotherhood fatwa prohibiting Muslims from wishing Christians a “Happy Easter,” Morsi’s coldness towards Christians reflects a central paradox of the Brotherhood’s Islamism: despite its longtime promise to “implement the sharia” upon achieving power, the Brotherhood only offers specific interpretations of Islamic legal principles when it needs to justify its most intolerant impulses.
The Islamist-led government “appears to be in a no-win situation,” argues Ghanem, a senior fellow in the Brookings Global Economy and Development program.
“Implementing reforms could lead to greater unrest and political instability and jeopardize the democratization process. On the other hand, doing nothing will imply a deepening economic crisis and more hardship,” he writes. “This will also lead to unrest and instability, and ultimately jeopardize the transition process.”
So how can Egypt’s transition be saved?
“A national consensus needs to be reached and the reforms have to be broadly owned and accepted,” he suggests:
The opposition (which itself is divided between liberals, Nasserists and Salafists) will have to buy into the economic reform program. This is unlikely to occur unless a consensus is also reached on outstanding political issues (e.g. election law, revision of the constitution, reform of the judiciary, etc.). Both government and opposition will have to make compromises. But do they have the required level of political maturity to do that?
But is the Islamist-led government likely to adopt a more inclusive, less ideological approach to governance?
The Brotherhood will probably maintain its embrace of “content-free sharia”, for two reasons, argues Trager:
First, by keeping its sharia approach vague, the Brotherhood is able to prevent internal fissures from emerging that could potentially undermine its organizational integrity, which it views as vital to consolidating its power. The Brotherhood thus envisions itself as a disciplined vanguard, which — according to former Brotherhood spokesman Ibrahim al-Houdaiby — “focuses on recruitment and empowering the organization while postponing all intellectual questions”……….
Second, the Brotherhood’s vague sharia approach allows it to justify everything it does as Islamic, while casting its opponents as enemies of Islam who are thereby deserving of punishment. Barr, the Brotherhood leader who issued the fatwa prohibiting Muslims from wishing Christians a Happy Easter, was actually quite explicit on this point when I interviewed him in July 2012. …
“So while the Brotherhood is certainly an Islamist organization,” notes Trager, the Next Generation fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, “the vagueness of its Islamism reveals its most salient characteristic: namely, its totalitarianism, which deploys Islam primarily as a rhetorical device for maintaining internal unity and distinguishing itself from its potential enemies.”