Egypt’s reform process: What, who, and how?

I am trying to follow– from the very great distance of central Virginia, USA, what is happening regarding the very necessary and WAYS overdue process of political/constitutional reform and rebuilding that Egypt so desperately needs if the democracy revolution of the past few weeks is to be able to survive and thrive.
Here are some notes I wrote on that to some friends this morning:

    This ‘transition’ has barely begun yet; also, the vast bulk of what happens will not be in Tahrir Square or even in Cairo but in the countries’ scores of other large cities, and its towns and villages. (Though Egypt has been a very centralized state for 8,000 years, so Cairo remains crucial.) I’m sure that all around the country, people who’ve worked with or kowtowed to the NDP overlords for so long are now busy repositioning themselves (like the police in Cairo– organizing that ‘protest march’!!!) and there is huge potential for disorder, vengeance-seeking, and other forms of social breakdown such as we saw in Iraq, but luckily without at this point the potential for analogous ethno-sectarian cleavages.
    We should not underestimate either on the one hand the huge damage that social breakdown (“fitna”) inflicts, or OTOH the fact that Egyptians are very aware of the risks of it occurring and might overreact by cleaving ‘too’ tightly to the forces that promise stability.
    These are all, of course, entirely their choices to make. But the United States government, as the main outside funder of the Egyptian military is uniquely positioned to influence that side.
    What is happening– I hope!– at the heart of the regime is a serious negotiation between the army bosses and the combined forces of the opposition over all the terms and modalities of a transition to civilian rule that will, inevitably, be one that is ‘managed’ by the military. I imagine some forces in the army don’t want to run the country directly; other may want to try. But I think it’s important that we and they all remember that they did NOT wade in and shoot the demonstrators on Jan 25, 26, 27, 28, etc; so I hope they recognize the very limited political utility under present circumstances of their military and coercive power?
    It’s important, too, to note that the former ruling party, the National Democratic Party, has largely collapsed. It never had anything like the ideological strength and wide network of “true believers” that, for example, the Baath Party used to have in Iraq. It was never more than a cynical patronage machine.
    In terms of an ability to ‘manage’ the transition to a post-NDP era at the grassroots level nationwide, I think the Muslim Brotherhood is streets ahead of any of the other components of the opposition in having a nationwide network, a fairly clear social vision (much of which is good, some bad), links to all sectors of society from business owners to professionals to small business owners to fellahin (peasants), and considerable organizational heft. Wael Ghonim, the much-lauded Egyptian-American Facebook exec, seems pretty clueless about politics and most of the other ‘Facebook youth’ also seem to have eschewed politics for so long that they also now seem a little politically clueless?
    It is crucial, though, for all the components of the Tahrir Square movemt to stick together and form a joint team to negotiate this out with the generals, if possible. Otherwise, very evidently, the generals will try to pick them off one by one. That was one reason I was so surprised to see Wael and the other youth go in to meet the military on their own on Sunday– UNLESS that was part of a plan that had previously been agreed with the rest of the opposition.

After I wrote those notes, I learned that the MB has agreed to have a representative on the constitutional reform committee that the generals have set up.
Their Ikhwanweb website says this:

    A constitutional reform panel has been commissioned by the military council to change the same six articles in the Egyptian Constitution that ex-President Hosni Mubarak’s constitutional reform commission identified.
    The abolition of Article 179 which restricts people’s freedoms and rights in the name of security will be considered along with amendments to articles 76, 77, 88, 93, and 189…
    On Monday the military appointed panel members selecting former judge Tariq al-Bishry as chairman. Opposition groups are divided however as to whether amendment reforms will be sufficient, and are contemplating whether a new constitution should be created.
    Constitutional scholars have advised the military to create an interim constitution and Muslim Brotherhood lawyer Sobhi Saleh has was chosen to be part of the panel.

The liberal daily Al-Masry Al-Youm reported some concerns in some quarters about the composition of the panel:

    Ousted president Hosni Mubarak had issued a similar decree concerning the same articles before he resigned on 11 February, but his move did not appeal to protesters, who preferred a new Constitution.
    The military appointed the panel members on Monday, selecting Tarek al-Beshry, a moderate Islamist and former judge, as chairperson.
    The panel includes Sobhy Saleh, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest Islamist opposition group. The selection of Saleh has caused some concern among the country’s Copts and secularists.
    Coptic activists also expressed reservations over the choice of al-Beshry, saying that his stance toward Copts is causing them some anxiety over the potential amendments.

What I’m looking for– commenters who can supply this would be most appreciated– is information on two things:

    1. Who else is on this panel, representing which trends?
    2. Will there in fact be two processes of constitutional revision– an “interim” process to tweak it, addressing only those long-infamous six articles, plus a longer-term project of rewriting the whole thing– or only one (the tweaks)? This is not yet clear.

If I had more time, I’d go into the Arabic sources to find out more.
I’ll just close by noting two final things:
1. Issandr has the text of a well-crafted Transition Plan pulled together on February 12 by the Forum of Independent Human Rights Organizations. It’s here.
2. Remarkably little sign of any public activity in the crucial past few days from the group of so-called “Wise Men”. Their spokesman Amr Hamzawy had a piece in the WaPo on Sunday that was sadly behind the curve. The “Wise Men” group seems to have been pulled together only very hastily and at the last minute. It does include Amr Moussa, who has real political heft credibility in the country, and Naguib Suwairis, the country’s absolutely largest business owner (and fwiw, a Copt). Those individuals and the others identified with the “Wise Men” (sexism alert!) group will doubtless play some part in the ongoing negotiations. But it does not necessarily look as though either they or the “Facebook youth” have the nationwide organizational heft to act as any kind of serious “counter” to the MB (which is what, I believe, the Obama administration is now desperately looking for.)
Ah well, interesting times for Egypt. I wish them all good luck with this process!

2 thoughts on “Egypt’s reform process: What, who, and how?

  1. Domza

    A propos Tunisia, Samir Amin said in an interview with a Turkish newspaper published on 27 January 2011: “the Western powers will try to create an Islamic alternative and will try to support a movement of this sort in order to avoid a really democratic alternative.”
    I posted that interview on the last “Open Thread” on this JWN blog.
    I hope the JWN blog is itself not becoming a channel of advocacy for an Islamic alternative to democracy.
    Let’s say it out loud: a Saudi solution is not what we want.
    We know that under Western eyes, a mullah is better than a democrat any day. This has been the whole problem all along. So let’s not fall into that hole again. If political Muslims play the game by the democratic rules, fine. But what you are describing above with approval looks like an inside track for the mullahs. No, thanks.
    Do I hear voices saying they don’t know who Samir Amin is? You should.

  2. John C.

    I have grave doubts about a revolution that leaves the prior regime’s military elite in complete control of the country. Unless there is some doubt about the willingness of the rank and file to follow orders, the power really rests in a few generals. So far, it seems to me that the generals have played their cards very well indeed. They got rid of the nuisance and embarrassment of a few aging politicians, got some “street cred” for not firing on the demonstrators, aligned themselves with international support for “reform of the Arab World” and are now in a position to dictate the terms of the next government. This is not a recipe for democracy.

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