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Opinion

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.

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Demanding accountability at this early stage, including initiating prosecutions of perpetrators, will be necessary to distinguish the current government for the former regime and combat the rampant culture of impunity that governed relations between the Egyptian state and its citizens.

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Constitutional reform now, not later

A transitional government will also have to establish an inclusive process for constitutional reform. The path is muddled by the limited mandate for constitutional change that the Supreme Military Council has authorized, and the unrepresentative body it has tasked with carrying out this effort. The current amendment process will track closely the scope of changes announced previously by Mubarak, which are only focused on the necessary changes to hold an open election and abolish extraordinary executive powers connected to the emergency law.

While this is an important step, the current appetite for regime change will require a thoroughgoing and inclusive process for constitutional change that reflects the aspirations of the Egyptian people and inaugurates a social compact. As such, a caretaker government could lay out a transparent two-step process for constitutional reform. This could include nationwide consultations by a representative constitutional assembly. While adoption of a permanent constitution is more appropriately undertaken following the election of a popularly elected government, establishing an inclusive process for constitutional reform at this stage will guarantee that the momentum for change is not blunted later by the drift of events.

Delaying the initiation of far-reaching reforms until a fully legitimate, elected government is in place might undercut the case for continued change. For the less committed among Egyptian society, the zeal for reform might well ebb once a popular election has returned the country to a civilian government, even if revolutionary changes have been eschewed in the interim. The worst-case outcome in such a scenario would be shallow political reforms undertaken during the transitional period, coupled with disproportionate and inflated representation of the former ruling party, corrupt economic stakeholders, and the Muslim Brotherhood as a result of the ability of these groups to rely upon existing organizational structures.

When the Free Officers movement toppled King Farouk in 1952, the Revolutionary Command Council promised the country that it would establish a sound democracy. This never came to pass. While fear of a thwarted transition should keep Egypt’s opposition vigilant, they should not agree to potentially damaging formulas for transition as a defensive mechanism. Egypt’s opposition groups should demand that real change be undertaken immediately, while establishing a realistic timetable for transitioning to a credible, open, and pluralistic political process.

Michael Wahid Hanna is a fellow and program officer at The Century Foundation.

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