x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Egyptians must not let instability fear affect their choices during elections

Many Egyptians are developing nostalgia for the figure of the “charismatic leader” who could hold the reins of the country with an iron fist and quickly restore stability. But this sense of nostalgia is illusory and must not be relied upon when Egyptians are making big political decisions, wrote Waheed Abdul Majeed, head of the Cairo-based Al Ahram Centre for Translation and Publishing, in an article for the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper Al Ittihad yesterday.

“Egyptians ought to beware of the danger involved in making poor choices due to fear of rampant acts of terror and of the absurd practices of the Muslim Brotherhood, a fear that destabilises so many areas in their lives, to the point where even the start of the new school year last week had to come with such huge stress,” Abdul Majeed wrote.

If it persists, this fear will fuel a search for a “salvation leader”, one who would be entitled to make exceptional decisions and take drastic measures in the name of restoring Egyptian daily life to what it once was, he added.

Egypt’s road map for the future, which was declared in Cairo on July 3 this year, has identified three key milestones for the transition after the removal from power of President Mohammed Morsi.

“The first milestone is amending the 2012 constitution, which has been provisionally suspended under the road map,” the author said. “The second milestone is parliamentary elections, which will be held one week after a referendum on the amended constitution.” The presidential election would then take place.

“This gradual plan makes a lot of sense, despite the good amount of logic in the alternate opinion that says the presidential election must be held right after the constitutional referendum and before parliamentary elections so as to whittle down the interim period and send out a positive message that Egypt is moving steadily towards stability,” he wrote.

However, if the process of democratisation is to be properly undertaken, Egyptians must avoid electing a president before electing a parliament. “There is risk there,” the writer said, “as the elected president might use his power to influence the parliamentary elections.”

The risks are even greater if we factor in the general mood in Egypt, Abdul Majid went on. People will have a hard time knowing what they really want: is it the proverbial strongman with a magic wand who can bring solutions to everything overnight, or the wise statesman who can work collegially with others to rebuild the country’s economy and address structural issues?

With fear and lassitude clouding their judgment, many Egyptians today sound like they would be willing to accept a totalitarian autocrat for as long as he can put Egypt back on track, the writer concluded. But that is no way to build a democracy.

Unrealistic demands of Syrian opposition

The list of demands by Syrian opposition leaders for their participation in the second Geneva conference gives one a sense of how removed they really are from the difficult political reality, noted the columnist Abdel Rahman Al Rashed in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat.

The list presented to the organisers of the conference included compelling the Assad regime to confess to its crimes and mistakes and a pledge by the international community to hold the regime accountable.

“If the regime agreed to confess and the world wanted to fight him, there wouldn’t be a need for a conference in the first place,” the writer observed.

“Geneva II is a meeting of international and regional powers along with the Syrian regime and representatives from the opposition to look into a formula to end the war and not to surrender and transfer power.”

It is too early for the opposition to make such demands, especially when no significant gains have been made on the battlefield.

As long as opposition leaders aren’t aware of their real value in the bigger frame of events, domestic and international, they would continue to be distracted by side conflicts and complicate matters for each other.

This in turn helps to corroborate Russia’s argument regarding the lack of a unified opposition that is ready and capable of holding the reins of power.

Ousting Assad regime will have to wait

The latest chapter of the Syrian crisis, which ended with granting President Bashar Al Assad’s regime time to allow for the dismantling of its chemical arsenal, has clearly reshuffled the cards, said the columnist Ali Hamadeh in the Lebanese daily Annahar.

“The image in the region is distorted. Everyone awaits the outcomes of the US president’s policies after he gave Mr Al Assad a new lease of life in power, albeit short, and pushed all of America’s regional allies into a narrow corner at a time when they are at the height of confrontation with the new Iranian project in the region,” the writer said.

Washington seems to have opted for a policy of appeasement with Tehran based on analysis of events, suggesting that a radical change is taking place in Iran’s system of rule. It also suggests that a policy of conciliation and openness to Mr Rouhani’s advances would, in the foreseeable future, allow the US a substantial role in Iran.

In the meantime, the battle rages on in Syria against the regime and within the ranks of the opposition between radical and moderate Islamist groups and civil groups.

“This all leads to the conclusion that the ouster of the regime has been postponed for a few months,” Hamadeh concluded.

* Digest compiled by The Translation Desk