x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Engagement essential for a modern Egypt

The US State Department probably didn't have the Muslim Brotherhood's benefit in mind when it called last week for 'fair and transparent elections' in Egypt.

The US State Department probably didn't have the Muslim Brotherhood's benefit in mind when it called last week for "fair and transparent elections" in Egypt. But the pressure of the US and others on the Egyptian government to ease restrictions on opposition parties in the run-up to the vote on November 29 is rising.

Whatever their interest in the elections, the world is watching Egypt as it prepares to vote. What they see may be jarring. Hundreds of opposition members were arrested and their marches have been disrupted. In particular, a quarter of the Muslim Brotherhood's candidates have already been barred from running for office. The cost of excluding the Brotherhood and other parties may have now become greater than allowing them to participate.

A Muslim Brotherhood that is integrated into Egypt's political fabric and institutions may at first seem counter-productive to those who advocate a more dynamic and democratic Egypt. But many factions of the Brotherhood have moderated. The party as a whole has come a long way from its fundamentalist roots and operates more today as a structured political party than a band of zealots. Though the party remains officially outlawed, the Brotherhood also benefits from its status on the fringe. Perhaps it is time for their integration into the democratic processes to be cautiously managed.

Bringing sidelined opposition groups, not just the Brotherhood, in from the political wilderness serves an important purpose. It provides them influence, but more importantly, with responsibility. Opposition groups can no longer hide behind their rhetoric and will instead be judged by how they address real issues. And there are plenty of issues in Egypt to be dealt with.

Though the brotherhood remains far and away the biggest opposition group in Egypt, several moderate parties have also refused to participate in the elections, believing that their participation would be an endorsement for a process they believe to be critically flawed.

Opposition parties do not have all the answers. But prohibiting them from participating only stokes apathy among the country's younger population, who have long become resigned to the fact that the status quo will not, or will not be allowed to, change. That cannot be the answer for Egypt.

Two weeks ago, the Egyptian president, Hosni Mubarak, gave the assurance that the elections on November 28 will be free."I will reaffirm that I anticipate, and the party anticipates, that the elections will be free and have integrity," Mr Mubarak told a conference of the ruling National Democratic Party.

With the eyes of the world on Egypt, we hope that these words ring true on election day and in the years to come.