A roadmap for Egypt, Tunisia and others

IMHO, the best of all possibilities for North Africa and the Middle East is to transition to modern non-sectarian democratic government from autocratic dictatorships.

And many countries have made that switch. Egypt, Tunisia, et al, have many examples they can learn from to make that transition as peaceful as possible.
My question for this thread is what roadmap do you think would work best?

I think the best one may have been Spain’s transition - hold a general election for a constitutional convention, keep the army in the loop, but with clear instructions to stand on the sidelines, and allow people to form any political party they wish.

For Spain, the big question was whether to legalize the Communist party, for Egypt, it is the Muslim Brotherhood. I think Spain made the right choice. By legitimizing the Communists, they also made them compete in the public square, instead of building a clandestine organization. I think a similar method would work for the Muslim Brotherhood.

The biggest fear I keep hearing, but have yet to see any evidence for, is that the Brotherhood would sweep the elections and overturn any constitution to create an Islamic state - well, if that is the democratic will of the Egyptian polis, then so be it. But I give it very low odds of occurring.

It is possible they establish the first government and pass legislation to encourage their views, such as the Socialists did in Spain. Such is their right of office. Europe has several Christian Democratic parties and other groups even more dominated by religious beliefs. The goal should not to be to create a secular government with no religious influence, but at minimum a non-sectarian government where no sect can ban any other sect, and allow their representatives to battle it out on the parliament floor.

The big question for Egypt is whether they have a capable leader who can manage the transition process. Spain had that capacity with Adolfo Suárez who had the backing of Juan Carlos. I don’t know if Omar Suleiman is able or willing to be that leader for Egypt. El Baradei or may be an option. Former Foreign Minister Amre Moussa has also been mentioned as a possible transition leader.

So any thoughts on the best way forward for our Egyptian neighbors and others?
Does another country provide a better example? Turkey? Hungary?

XXI. Nyarlathotep

And at the last from inner Egypt came
The strange dark One to whom the fellahs bowed;
Silent and lean and cryptically proud,
And wrapped in fabrics red as sunset flame.
Throngs pressed around, frantic for his commands,
But leaving, could not tell what they had heard;
While through the nations spread the awestruck word
That wild beasts followed him and licked his hands.

Soon from the sea a noxious birth began;
Forgotten lands with weedy spires of gold;
The ground was cleft, and mad auroras rolled
Down on the quaking citadels of man.
Then, crushing what he chanced to mould in play,
The idiot Chaos blew Earth’s dust away.

– H.P. Lovecraft

That’s just beginning to look possible, here . . .

I am hoping, but all I have heard are mentions of vague reforms and a referendum on constitutional amendments. I think much more substantial changes will have to occur.

I believe a transition to full democracy is possible in Tunisia. In Egypt, I expect the army to keep the reins, and keep them tightly.

I think the military will follow the Turkish model and establish themselves as guardians of the constitution while allowing civilian politics to do as they wish within those bounds.

The key question is what constitution - the current one, amended, or a new one.

The other part is that military-run factories are one of the bedrocks of Egyptian industry. I think those will remain in their hands for a while.

A major reform that needs to occur in many countries is abolition of national police/interior ministry agencies and forces. Domestic criminal intelligence and law enforcement agencies are one thing, such as the FBI. But the majority of those agencies are not concerned with criminals, but ‘dissidents.’

One group I hope Egypt does not keep out of the reform process are UN development staff and other NGOs or advisors to help reform the economy. They can keep the IMF and WTO officials out for awhile though. I don’t know the specific details on the Egyptian economy, but I think Hungary and Poland would be good road maps for that aspect.

I also hope the military and transitional government will allow international observers for the next couple rounds of elections until their domestic institutions are capable.

Spain was a mess, but still much more advanced than Egypt it now. Tunisia is the same.

Throw out a dictator and you’re more likely to get Congo (Zaire) or if you’re lucky Uganda (which is one of the few African states with a middle class) than a Spain or Portugal.

For all their evil doing, Spain’s Franco and Portual’s Salazar had a sense of pride in their countries. OK it was miguided and brought the country down, and they certainly lived a good life, while their people’s suffered, they also at least tried to guide their own country’s destiny as well as their own.

Dictators in Africa such as Mubarak and Mobuto, Bokassa (CAR) or Idi Amin (Uganda) only wanted to see how much money they could put in their Swiss bank accounts

Tunisia or Egypt lack a clear leader. Look at Pakistan, even a return to democracy usually only results in a military take over sooner or later.

Development-wise, Egypt is not anywhere near the DRC or Uganda. The countries surrounding on the Human Development Index are

Micronesia, Federated States of

In other words, it’s the kind of medium human development country that is ripe to develop a blossoming economy and free political system. It’s the kind of place that is developing a base of educated, modern, urban, forward-thinking young people who want the kinds of economic opportunities that they know are out there. I don’t think it will be an easy transition, but I see no reason why it can’t become a success story like most of the other countries in it’s development range.

Egypt is also two countries in one. Cairo, Alexandria and the other major cities are as modern as most - similar to Mumbai, Manila, or Buenos Aires. They do have large slums, but they also have functioning democracies. The poverty in rural Egypt is what keeps their development and GDP rankings low. Hell, just watching the news, I was impressed by how modernized Cairo is, which is where a quarter of the country lives.

The actual Third World where people do not have access to clean water, electricity, good schools and medical care is very small these days. A very large number of people still live in those areas, but the ratio has decreased significantly over the last twenty years.

Egypt also demonstrates the limitations of autocracy - it may be able to provide a decent standard of material living, but eventually the people demand the right for intangible benefits that can only be provided under a democratic society. The Communist countries reached their limits in the 80’s and had to transition. The 90’s saw the rise of true democracies in Taiwan, South Korea, and most of Latin America.

Now the Arab states have reached that point. I think this will be a watershed year. My prediction is that you will see democratic governments across North Africa and much stronger parliaments across the Emirates and monarchies of the region, perhaps not constitutional monarchies equivalent to some European states, but very close.

Here’s an idea: Egypt has 29 governorates or provinces, the governors of which have always been appointed by the president. The ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces could, by decree, make them elective, and schedule elections three or four months from now. Then the people, who have never before been involved in an election that meant anything, get some practice for the big one. It would also focus public attention on each province’s local problems, which might start the process of doing something about Egypt’s rural underdevelopment.