Time: A luxury Egypt can no longer afford

Egypt has just lived through a period of high anxiety, unexpected political twists and turns, and an ongoing constitutional coup by the military that may or may not be reversed by the new president and other political forces. And this has come after 16 months of post-Hosni Mubarak transition that has — at best — been halting, confusing, ill-managed and badly planned.

While Mohamed Morsy’s election may now calm things, time is short to resolve many outstanding issues sprung by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces with its 17 June supplement to the Constitutional Declaration, and to get the government back to the business of actual governing rather than transitioning.

The events surrounding the presidential election have highlighted the fragility of relations between the military and political forces, and left many questions unanswered; notably what role the military will have in governing and how the future constitution will be written. There is an urgent need for answers, since Egypt could very well face more political crises in the future as the balance of power between the military and various political forces stabilizes, or, if the lack of consensus on both issues of process (how to carry out the remainder of the transition) and substance (new laws and policies to address pressing problems) continues.

Take a step back from the political front lines and look at the situation Egypt finds itself in. The January 2011 uprising delivered a major shock to the country’s economy, with a recovery still pending, and growth (and thus job creation) quite anemic. The greatest obstacle to the recovery remains political uncertainty. This uncertainty has not only disillusioned part of the population with revolutionary politics. Unfortunately, as the presidential election campaigns showed, politicians are continuing to make false or irresponsible promises — from forgiving the debts of certain professions, such as taxi drivers, to repeating the myth that billions of dollars allegedly stolen by the former regime can be easily recovered and will solve the budget deficit and economic crisis. 

This is why a government mixing competent technocrats and politicians must be formed as soon as possible. The Muslim Brotherhood has been right to criticize the performance of the Kamal al-Ganzouri Cabinet but has yet to honestly address the issues ahead. Its first task should be to be transparent with the state of the economy and state finances, something no Cabinet could do under the Mubarak regime, and tell the Egyptian people the truth about the difficult times ahead, namely that things will get worse before getting better.

There is also the question of prioritizing. The Islamists’ championing of a new law regulating Islamic finance is not a bad thing, and may attract new investment from Gulf states and elsewhere. But it hardly goes to the core of the immediate problems facing Egypt — ones as basic as the availability of fuel and subsidized bread. This is why it is a little odd that it is the first piece of economic legislation the Freedom and Justice Party intended to pass before Parliament’s recent dissolution. Likewise, the FJP shares responsibility with the Ganzouri Cabinet and the SCAF for the delays in inking a deal with the International Monetary Fund, the key event other lenders and donors, as well as private investors, are waiting for. And they have been notably silent on the question of whether the Egyptian pound should be devalued — something most economic analysts believe is inevitable at this point.

Finally, it is also crucial to remove the ongoing ambiguity about who governs Egypt. After 16 months, Egypt had an elected Parliament (that was just disbanded) and now has an elected president. SCAF’s new constitutional supplement is not just unacceptable because it is an undemocratic imposition, but perhaps even more so because it adds to the uncertainty over the most basic question the outside world is asking about the country: Who is in charge?

Issandr El Amrani is a writer on Middle Eastern affairs. He blogs at www.arabist.net.

This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weeklyprint edition.

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