x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Egypt after Morsi cannot waste its second chance

We will see, in the weeks to come, how committed the Egyptian military is to their "road map" back to an elected civilian government.

Those who had given up on Egypt and the Arab Spring received a jolt this week from the Tamarrod movement. The Egyptian people's resolve as manifested in sustained demonstrations was a wonder to witness.

The organisers of Tamarrod were, no doubt, aided by the public's outrage over President Morsi's moves towards authoritarian rule and his party's efforts to monopolise the reins of power. But the protest movement's ability to organise this growing unrest into a massive petition drive and nationwide protests has been remarkable.

Critics have condemned the military's decision to intervene and depose the elected head of state, calling it a "coup". But before making a snap judgement, it might be best to listen to the millions of demonstrators who were calling on the military to act and who have celebrated the downfall of the Morsi government. It might also be wise to take note that the generals did not name one of their own as interim president. Instead they turned authority over to the Chief Justice of the country's Supreme Constitutional Court.

We will see in the weeks to come how committed the military is to their "road map" back to an elected civilian government. Whether this is a "coup" or a "course correction" will ultimately be decided not by their action on July 3, but by the degree to which rule of law is restored, rights are protected, and civilian rule is established through a new constitution and elections.

In a real sense this is not a "Second Revolution" as much as it is a continuation of the process that began in 2011. Whoever said "you don't get do-overs in politics" got it wrong. What the Tamarrod movement has done, with the support of the military, is give the Egyptian people another opportunity to remake their revolution. But demonstrations alone don't make change. Organisation, strategy and the ability to implement that plan are critical.

This time, instead of rushing into new elections, the sequencing of events will be important. First the constitution must be amended - this time by a body that is representative of the character and demographics of the Egyptian people. The fact that the military has invited the participation of liberals and conservatives, Christian and Muslim leadership, young people and women is a hopeful sign of the inclusiveness that will be needed if the aspirations of all the people will be reflected in what is to be the country's charter document.

This time, the leaders of the protest movement must join with the existing political parties or form a party of their own that can turn their petition and mobilisation successes into electoral victories. The structure they created to collect 22 million endorsements and effectively administer nationwide demonstrations was no small feat. But now this must be converted into a permanent structure that can be effective in organising and turning out voters and representing their interests. That was what was missing the last time. With the dissolution of the Mubarak-era NDP, the Muslim Brotherhood was left as the country's only remaining effective political structure, thus enabling it to win a series of elections in rapid succession.

And this time, Egypt's leaders must focus on the needs of the people. Arab American Institute (AAI) polling data, compiled before and after the downfall of President Mubarak, established that the principal concerns of the majority of Egyptians were and remain economic. The only political concerns they raised were "corruption and nepotism" reflecting their frustration with wealth and power being concentrated in the hands of a few. The Brotherhood appeared not to understand this reality. Instead of immediately turning their attention to economic development and job creation, they focused on consolidating power, imposing their agenda, and punishing critics. This was surprising given their supposed business acumen and reputation as social service providers. In their failure to focus on meeting people's needs and their failure to develop a more inclusive approach to governing, they ended up redefining "nepotism and corruption" to mean the Brotherhood.

If this "second act" is to succeed, Egypt's people will need to see immediate signs of change. The promised interim government of technocrats will need to be made up of respected and competent figures. The committee charged with amending the constitution will need to be inclusive of all segments of society and parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood. Between now and elections, those who want a different outcome, must undertake the hard work of organising for political power. And beginning now, efforts must be made to address the country's dire economic conditions. While long-term planning and structural reform is a must, "quick fixes" should be considered as a way to buy needed time. Here is where the resources of the military, Egypt's business community, and its international allies can be helpful in designing a short-term job-creation and benefits programme.

Change is never easy and is most often messy. If the events of the past two years have demonstrated anything it is that the Egyptian people want change, they feel empowered to demand change, and, when it is not forthcoming, those in power will be held on a short leash.

I was pleased that our last AAI poll was able to define the political context leading up to the June 30 demonstrations. I only wish we could predict the future with the same precision. What is clear is that Egyptians are finding their way through uncharted waters. They have made a "course correction" giving themselves a second chance. This time, we can all hope they get it right.


James Zogby is the president of the Arab American Institute

On Twitter: @aaiusa