Healing Egypt: Three steps to unify a divided nation
The uprising of millions of Egyptians since June 30 has led to sharp polarization. Growing up in Egypt, I never saw the country as divided as it is today. Efforts to rebuild the nation must focus on justice, reconciliation, and inclusiveness.
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The promise is that within a year’s time, parliamentary and presidential elections will be completed, with the army only protecting the process.Skip to next paragraph
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But the central question is how this predicament of division can be solved. I propose a plan of three specific points:
First, and immediately, a council should be formed to consider the latest constitution and the articles of disagreement. Within three months, the constitution should be amended and approved by the people in a referendum vote so the country can be united on future binding principles of society and the election processes that follow.
Second, the parliamentary election should precede the presidential election. Again, within another three months, Egyptians will know the political identity and spectrum of their parliament, and from this new election will emerge the majority and minority parties, inclusive of civil and Islamic parties.
Third, and most important to end the current polarization and violence, is the formation of a supreme presidential council, a board of trustees, made up of three groups. This council should have one-third representation by the civil parties, one-third representation by the Islamist parties, and one-third representation by wise men and women who are independent and not politically associated with any party.
Perhaps five to a maximum of 10 people from each group would be sufficient. This body would have the authority to discuss in depth the upcoming proposed changes to the Constitution and the proposed election process, and to vote on them. This way they are part of shaping the future; from the beginning they are included in the political process at the highest level. Disagreement may occur, but in the end, a vote among the members will be binding for all.
It is critical that during this transitional period the leadership does not repeat the past, and must deal with the Islamists fairly and inclusively. Also, Morsi must be treated justly in accordance with the law. Finally, the media must live up to the occasion. It must stop “reverse polarization” and work toward convergence, not divergence.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the Salifist parties are a real force in the Egyptian society. No civil, liberal government can succeed, even after new elections, if the Islamists are forced to work underground as a foe and the country remains divided. In fact, this is evident even after the June 30 event, when the Salifist al Nour party had a final say on who became the prime minister for the translational period.
Reducing Egypt’s predicament only to the issue of a coup without realizing the central issues of division and violence in today’s Egypt is too simplistic and dangerous. Every effort should be made to help build the new democratic nation with reconciliation and forgiveness, for the sake of Egypt and not for the benefit of one party or one group.
Ahmed Zewail is the 1999 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry and is a former US envoy to the Middle East.