Friday, April 13, 2012

CNN:Zakaria: The greatest threat facing Egypt

Zakaria: The greatest threat facing Egypt

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Egypt is in the news these days because of the nomination of two new candidates for president - one from the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al-Shater, and the other from the more radical Salafi movement, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail.

Many Egypt watchers are understandably concerned. There have been attacks on Christians, Western aid workers and women. So where is Egypt headed? Is democracy in Egypt being captured by highly illiberal forces? Can tolerance and pluralism win out?

We should continue to monitor the situation very closely, but as of right now, we should not panic. Al-Shater and Abu Ismail both insist that they are fully committed to democracy and to the rights of minorities.

Yes, they have very reactionary social views, but such views are allowed within democratic systems. There are plenty of parties in the West with arguably reactionary or illiberal views. Nevertheless, these parties run and, in some places, win elections. For example, ultra-right-wing, nationalist parties have won elections in countries across northern Europe.

So even though these two Egyptian candidates are advocating some polices that we might disagree with vehemently, we must remember that they are entirely within their rights to do so. Democracy does not guarantee that you will have the policy outcomes that you always like. It is about the integrity of the process.

That said, I do worry about Egypt - however, I worry about Egypt for a different reason. I think the principal problem facing the country is its military. Egypt's military is clearly deeply reluctant to cede power. It is trying to game the process in such a way that its interests are preserved. It wants to maintain its very large role in the economy.

The military benefits when secular, liberal and moderate political parties are disempowered - when people feel they need to choose between the military apparatus on the one hand or Islamic political parties on the other. That’s a choice the military wants to force Egyptians to confront and that’s the central tension in Egypt right now.

Through all this tumult, we need to remember that there have been pretty tough dictatorships in these countries since the 1950s that shut down all political and economic pluralism. What you’re seeing now is an opening of a Pandora’s box. Many long-suppressed forces are coming out in striking ways.

We don’t know how these societies will evolve over time as they open up and deal with liberty and democracy. We need to have some patience before we brand places like Egypt failures. We need to wait before branding the "Arab Spring" an "Arab Winter".

Egypt is currently a military dictatorship ruled by a junta, under martial law, with a great deal of abuse of governmental power. We see humiliation of women, the locking up of opposition parties and the persecution of journalists who write critical commentaries. All that is still happening. That - not two Muslim presidential candidates - represent the real challenge facing Egypt.

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