For Egypt, the Hard Part is Just Beginning

February 25th marked the one month anniversary of the revolution that eventually toppled the Mubarak regime in Egypt. The anniversary is a moment to reflect on the unprecedented events that are transforming the Middle East before our eyes. But they also provide a humble reminder of how far Egypt has to go before its citizens can claim true victory.

Egypt must now build a legitimate democracy either from scratch or by amending the current constitution. Either way, the process requires tremendous time and patience. While the revolution started with a bang, and the protestors forced a cowardly resignation from Mubarak, the transformation to democracy must move forward and tackle critical legal battles.

This is the era of Egypt’s democratic adolescence, complete with growing pains, identity crises, and awkward political stumbles. One month in, Egypt is still ruled by former Mubarak cronies, and the emergency law is still in place. The military continues to maintain lucrative economic interests in the form of business and industry, and the economy is still struggling to recover from a precipitous decline in tourism and a stock market that just reopened this week.

Much works remains to be done. First up is a series of constitutional amendments drafted by a military commission that is already drawing criticism from opposition leaders. The commission’s final report will likely spark controversy and debate since constitutional reform will shape the entire future of the country. Important decisions about laws and government structures can dramatically affect election results. The 2006 Palestinian elections are a classic case study in how rules affect outcomes.

Additionally, the political vacuum in Egypt has sparked an every-man-for-himself scramble to form parties. Established parties like the Muslim Brotherhood, officially banned under Mubarak, suddenly must form tangible and coherent political platforms; rhetoric will no longer suffice in the world of competitive elections and open media. And dozens of new parties are struggling to jumpstart their election runs, frequently with inchoate platforms and leadership squabbles. New parties are learning just how much work must be done; after all, organizing a political party in post-Mubarak Egypt is easier said than done, as the al-Wasat party can attest to.

Too much remains unknown to make accurate predictions as to what will transpire in the coming months. At best, disparate factions will work together to compromise. At worst, the high stakes decisions will descend into ugly political battles that could undermine the democratic transition. The real challenge for Egypt’s reformers is to manage the transition to ensure true democratic reforms.

Egyptians are discovering that removing Mubarak from power is the easy part; building a stable, pluralistic democracy that can appease the country’s various political and religious groups is the hard part. As Egypt fades from the headlines, the work is just beginning.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Paul Oliver

Paul lives and works in the nation's capital where he enjoys an up-close view of politics. He writes most weeks in the World section.

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