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Take it slow, Egypt: Rushing the transition may actually kill real reforms

Progress based solely on a hasty transition would be an illusion – which might undercut the efforts of millions of Egyptian who took to the streets for change. Instead, Egypt’s opposition groups must take steps to ensure meaningful reforms within a reasonable timetable.

By Michael Wahid Hanna / March 1, 2011

New York

When I left Cairo the day after former president Hosni Mubarak’s resignation, I sensed a palpable break with Egypt’s recent past and a fundamental shift in the nation’s political consciousness. Yet there are real dangers that the fervor and dedication that have marked recent weeks will be blunted unless the current period of transition is methodically crafted. Efforts to ensure a speedy handover to civilian authority could end up thwarting the very progress toward revolutionary change that millions of Egyptians took to the streets to bring about.

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Progress based solely on a hasty electoral transition would be an illusion – which might undercut efforts at real reform. Instead of accepting a transition process implemented and dictated solely by the armed forces, Egypt’s opposition should remain united in seeking immediate actions that will preclude diversion to military-led governance, while allowing for a more realistic transitional period.

The country’s opposition groups are keen to ensure that the armed force’s custodianship is, in fact, temporary, and not a prelude to consolidation of a revamped, military-led regime. This concern – and broader and well-justified concerns about a counter-revolution – are understandable based on Egypt’s history and recent developments. Yet, these very same concerns could lead to support for a transition process that will actually undermine the core goals of the Egyptian uprising and subvert thorough reform. A six-month timetable for popular elections, as was announced by the Egyptian military, will dictate that reform in the interim period will be shallow and that even free and fair elections will not be an opportunity for true representational politics.

Military has right intent, but limited patience

Rightly or wrongly, the Egyptian military cemented its reputation with the Egyptian people by its refusal to turn its guns on its fellow citizens and its insistence that former president Hosni Mubarak resign, once it became clear that the country’s stability depended on such a move. Opposition groups have, understandably, given the military some latitude in laying out a path toward a return to civilian authority. It is doubtful that the military would seek to add the burden of governance to its responsibilities at a time of acute economic crisis.

The Supreme Military Council has also taken several needed and reassuring steps that indicate its commitment to transferring power peacefully and returning the armed forces to their barracks. In this vein, it has dissolved the country’s illegitimate parliamentary bodies, suspended the outmoded constitution, announced that elections will be held in six months, and begun refashioning the caretaker cabinet.

However, the limits of the military’s patience for continued protests are becoming clearer, and its use of coercive force to disperse protests has again put its ultimate intentions in doubt. With stability as its utmost priority, it should now be clear that the military will probably seek the minimal level of reform necessary to contain the ethos of protest and restore normalcy.


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