Next Friday, 1 April, Peers will spend the whole day debating recent events in Libya and the wider Middle East. It is my job to ensure that those bishops taking part in this debate are properly briefed. Whether they use that briefing is another matter and usually depends on the quality of the briefing provided.
Over the next few days, I’m going to post a series of blogs on those issues covered by this debate that might in turn provided the basis for my briefing. My blog on Friday last touched on Libya.
My hope is that this might stimulate wider debate about what you think the bishops, and in turn the Church, should say on the matter.
A final copy of the briefing will be posted before the debate next Friday.
The comments below relate to the Arab Spring and the Process of Democratisation in Egypt. Let me know what you think.
- Nick Grono, the Deputy President of the International Crisis Group, gave a talk to a Wilton Park Conference on 2 March where he set out seven key lessons on “what approaches can best support reform and improve the chances of a transition ultimately leading to a peaceful and democratic state”.
- These include the following: reform has to happen quickly; democratisation after protests may come more easily and rapidly in places that don’t have traditional elites; try and get the military out of politics out of as quickly as possible; get elections right; understand that outsiders are largely bystanders during the transition; don’t try to pick winners; conflict prevention matters. It is worth keeping these lessons in mind when thinking through recent developments in Egypt.
- Egypt has now moved beyond revolutionary protest to constitutional reform and political change. Four weeks after the resignation of President Mubarak, Egyptians overwhelmingly approved constitutional changes proposed by a committee formed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the de facto ruling government.
- The changes, approved as a single package by 77% of voters, will limit presidents to two four-year terms and constrain their ability to declare emergency laws for more than six months. Restrictions that had essentially barred non-National Democratic Party candidates from running for president will be eased.
- The referendum results indicate Egyptians favour a restoration of order. The outcome suggests an informal coalition involving the army, the Muslim Brotherhood and remnants of the ruling National Democratic Party have outmanoeuvred traditional opposition groups and new groups that played a key role in the revolution.
- The next stage in the transition will be parliamentary elections, originally scheduled for early June, followed by the presidential election in August – though the army may soon announce a new timetable that would push the former to September and the latter by year’s end.
- This timetable is too rushed. It gives newcomers little time to prepare and field candidates. It will advantage established players like the NDP and the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. The latter has been excluded from formal politics, but its candidates can run as independents.
- The army must now decide what changes will be made to the electoral system. Relaxation of the law governing political parties and a switch to proportional representation, from the current winner-takes-all formula, would allow broader political representation in parliament.
- The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is engaged in a delicate and uncomfortable balancing act.
- The army assumed the position of arbiter during the uprising and helped secure Mubarak’s departure. It has since found itself at odds with the youth led movement. It is assuming a position that it is culturally and politically ill-equipped to take on. It has often used violence against protesters.
- The army is filling the internal security vacuum left after the police vanished from the streets and the state security service was forcibly dissolved.
- The army must also ensure the country’s external security at a time of extreme volatility on its borders, amid the conflict in Libya, the division of Sudan into two, and an uncertain situation in Gaza that could spill over into the Sinai.
- The army is seeking to maintain Egypt’s strategic orientation to preserve American military aid and the peace treaty with Israel.
- Despite its discomfort, the army has resisted the idea of an interim presidential committee combining top judges, prominent civilians and senior officials to oversee the transition, fearing that would lead to drastic political change and to its own position being undermined. Such a sharing of power would have given added legitimacy to the transition. But the army’s rejection of it has drawn it deeper into the very process from which it is seeking to extricate itself.
- Protesters did not leave Tahrir Square and other public spaces once Mubarak had resigned. They have been unwilling to part with a flexible instrument of pressure. The potency of their tactics was shown not only during the chaos of the revolution itself but also subsequently. A generational divide has appeared between youth eager to preserve momentum for change and older people who question the recourse to street mobilisation.
- Street politics have also had a dark side.
- Women activists were attacked on International Women’s Day;
- Communal violence between Copts and Muslims on the outskirts of Cairo following an arson attack on a church on 8 March left at least 13 dead and 140 injured:
- stick-wielding thugs bent on breaking up protests have returned to Tahrir Square; and the Interior Ministry has suffered from unexplained fires.
- Labour protests have paralysed industrial activity in many places, and the economy has also been hit by the banks’ inability to operate properly and by the collapse of tourism.
- The move to parliamentary and presidential election is resulting in the reshaping of Egyptian politics.
- The Youth movement are divided between remaining as a radical reformist movement and seeking institutional power to check traditional parties and engage in coalition politics. They are unlikely to become key established players in any post-military political settlement.
- Though excluded from formal politics, a good performance in the parliamentary elections by the Muslim Brotherhood would influence the new constitution, in particular with regard to the role of sharia law in framing legislation.
- The Muslim Brotherhood is aware that the mosque is not now the only means of political mobilisation. It has to compete in a more crowded and suspicious environment. Divisions within its ranks has led some former members to splinter of and form their own political parties.
- Egypt’s myriad leftist groups see an opportunity to revive the labour movement and reverse Mubarak’s moves towards economic liberalisation. They suffer from tired leadership, inadequate organisation and infighting.
- Despite the uprising, the NDP remains a potent force because of its extensive network and experience in running (and rigging) elections. Minor NDP barons are already associating themselves with the army to preserve their position in the new order. Reformers within the NDP are coalescing around Hossam Badrawi, the party’s last secretary-general who was critical of Mubarak and his son Gamal.
- The fluidity of events in Egypt highlight that outsiders are for the most part bystanders in this process of political transition. Foreign governments must avoid the temptation of picking winners.
- Katherine Ashton, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs said on 21 march 2011: “ Egypt’s future lies in the hands of the Egyptians and it is the Egyptian people alone who can establish and maintain a stable and democratic society. However, the EU, as a neighbour and partner, stands ready to lend support in this crucial and irreversible process.”
- Acknowledging that Foreign Government are bystanders is not the same as saying that Foreign Government’s should do nothing.
- Freezing of and repatriation of the foreign assets of President Mubarak. The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council agreed to freeze the funds and economic resources of 19 individuals in Egypt – including Mubarak – deemed responsible for the misappropriation of state funds.
- Protection of human rights. It is the responsibility of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to ensure respect for all human rights and fundamental freedoms. Those responsible for loss of life and injuries, such as the 9 March arson attack on the Coptic Church should, be held accountable for their actions and brought to justice.
- Press for free and fair elections. Foreign governments should continue to monitor Egypt’s political transition and encourage the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces to ensure that any elections are free, fair and credible.
- Foreign Governments should ensure that their own public diplomacy recognises the complexity of the situation in Egypt and in turn avoids sweeping generalisations that label all Islamist parties as extreme and reactionary.
- Whatever the timing and result of the parliamentary and presidential elections, foreign governments should begin investing now in those organisations committed to maintaining the democratic space in Egypt. The elections are the beginning and not the end of the process of political change in Egypt.