Paul Lachine

Whither the Egyptian Revolution?

The West is limited in its ability to shape Egypt's political transition. But the potential for constructive influence remains considerable, and it should be responsive to those in Egypt who favor liberal ideas, democratic institutions, and broad distribution of the benefits of economic development.

WASHINGTON, DC – Egypt’s revolution toppled a dictator in February, but the country’s future as a stable, functioning democracy remains uncertain. The West is, of course, limited in its ability to shape the transition process. Nonetheless, the potential for constructive influence remains considerable, and it should be responsive to those in Egypt who favor liberal ideas, democratic institutions, and broad distribution of the benefits of economic development.

The upcoming parliamentary elections are but an early stage in a long (perhaps decades-long) struggle to define the new Egypt. Will Egypt gravitate toward Islamic theocracy or adopt a secular government that respects minority rights? Which economic policies – statist, liberal, or some combination of the two – will best ensure social justice and broad distribution of prosperity? Can civilian control of the military be established? Will the regional security structure formed around the United States, Egypt, and Israel survive?

The November elections will not resolve these fundamental questions, and whether a workable constitutional framework will develop is uncertain. A parliamentary system of government will likely emerge, including a prime minister and a cabinet, with the strong possibility that the presidency will be politically overshadowed, particularly if the presidential election is delayed. The central unknown is the composition of the ruling coalition.

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