Egypt’s challenge: to overcome transition

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

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If promises from the army and the interim government that Egypt will hold elections within 10 months and will be run by an elected Cabinet are honest, then the violence we are currently witnessing is part of a political activity that precedes decisive action.

The interim government is not legitimate and cannot be defended for long. The shorter it lives, the shorter the crisis will last.

The hurt and the defeated party, that is the Muslim Brotherhood, is attempting to impose its demands with as much turmoil as possible and even with blood. We have not yet, through the Brotherhood's statements, heard that they changed their political stance and demands. The Brotherhood still insists that Mohammad Mursi returns as president and that after this demand is met, a referendum or perhaps early elections can be agreed on or announced. These are the same demands that opposition political parties suggested before and which the army supported, but Mursi and his party's leadership refused.

It's not possible to take to the streets or call for the army's help to depose a ruler who violated the system every time there is a crisis.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

But if the transitional phase lasts for more than a year due to the complicated nature of the situation, or due to the current ruling party’s procrastination, or in the case of mounting violence, then the Egyptian scene will change and the Brotherhood will once again

be a political and a popular power. It's unlikely that the interim government's term will prolong especially that the armed forces announced that its leader, minister of defense, Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, does not intend to be president. This announcement came as a response to the opposition's rumors that Sissi was mobilizing the people for the intention of becoming president. The opposition has also alleged that Sissi was distributing his photos in Cairo.

The army’s power role

During the upcoming 10 months, the army may play an important new role that makes it an important pillar in governance for years to come. It's a role similar to that of the Turkish army in the 80s and 90s when they supervised political matters, guarded the state and coordinated with different parties. This is what the Egyptian army expressed via the several statements it made two weeks before ousting Mursi. The Egyptian army said it will protect popular legitimacy and the country's national security, and this depends on the political parties' capability to finish constitutional amendments and organize the political system.

I don’t think the army intends to exit the political game - unlike during the phase that preceded the elections that ended the civil movements' sharp criticism against it. Resuming its role in politics will this time be upon the desire or at least the satisfaction of civil parties that are afraid of religious parties which want to alter the rules of the democratic game the minute they win parliamentary or presidential elections.

If the military institution really plays the role of the policeman organizing from afar, it will then be a democracy maker and not the opposite. The opposite will actually happen if it abstains from intervening in the state's affairs, especially that the heated competition may push some parties to appeal for the military's help during every crisis thus eventually turning the military into a party. The army alone remains capable of granting immunity to state institutions by, for example, expanding its protection to include the judiciary and preserve its independence. This prevents the presidency and the government from interfering and exploiting the judiciary. But this army role will tomorrow depend on the clarity of the constitution after it is amended. It will also depend on the clarity of the rules of the game among competitors because democracy in the developing world is a theoretical culture where each party has its own interpretation of it. It's not possible to take to the streets or call for the army's help to depose a ruler who violated the system every time there is a crisis. But by standing behind legitimate and judicial institutions, the army can tame all different parties, the presidency and the Cabinet.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on July 24, 2013.

Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.

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