Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Is it too late for civility in Egypt?

It has been over two weeks since reform-minded protestors took to the streets in Egypt. In that time, the Hosni Mubarak government has made verbal and concrete concessions aimed at restoring peace and normalization to the country. Mubarak has resigned from his post as the head of the National Democratic Party, the only legal political party in Egypt, and has vowed that he nor his son will run in this year's presidential election. However, he has stopped short of immediately resigning as president and dismantling the one-party political apparatus which has dominated Egypt for over thirty years.

This immediate action is what many of the protestors are calling for; the end of the Mubarak era, a new constitution, a democratic multi-party political system...freedom, this is what they want. However, in the West we have come to expect that transitions of governmental power contain two elements; they occur within the boundaries of law and are peaceful in nature. So far law and order have been hard to come by in Egypt, but there is little reason for the impending transition to need to continue down the path of a bloody revolution versus an inevitable evolution. Do the Egyptian people really want the founding of their new democracy to begin with brutality and anarchy?

While Mubarak's repressive tactics have been the overwhelming source of the bloodshed, the protestor's demand for an immediate overthrow of the whole regime also have to factor into the blame. Essentially, if the protestors are willing to accept that the transition will, and should, take time, they may end up with a better product once their new government is formed. Time...time to create effective political parties...time to communicate each party's message to the Egyptian electorate...time to draft a new and citizen-empowering constitution.

Given Mubarak's excessive tenure as president, it is no wonder his insistence on serving out the remainder of his term has fallen on deaf ears. While a timely, orderly transition is what's needed, Mubarak lacks the legitimacy to call for it. To Egyptians he is a dictator, he is the enemy, he is the problem, so how can he be trusted to usher-in reform? He cannot.

Mubarak's best option is to immediately cede presidential power to a successor whom will serve out the remainder of his term. Utilizing the input of international organizations and opposition leaders such as Mohamed ElBaradei, this successor should then begin work on drafting a new constitution which will go into effect prior to the fall presidential elections and will be published for all Egyptians to see. The emergency powers which have justified Mubarak's one-party rule should be nullified and political parties legalized. Additionally, certain elements of Mubarak's former regime should be excluded from running in the election, including even the successor chosen to help craft the constitutional document.

The worst thing Mubarak can do is continue testing the will of his people by staying in office. The longer he stays, the more radicalized the populace is likely to become, and there can be no doubt that should chaos and anarchy prevail, the Egyptian situation will be exploited by the hardline Islamist elements of society.

By taking the tangible, irrevocable step of resigning, Mubarak will communicate to the Egyptian people that the change is in fact real. One can only hope that Egyptians take this to heart and steer their ship toward calmer waters. Let history make note, when given the choice of violence and anarchy or law and order, Egyptians choose the latter.
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