Egypt’s tightrope walkhttps://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/egypts-tightrope-walk/

Egypt’s tightrope walk

The Muslim Brotherhood should be free to participate in constitution-making and elections

The Muslim Brotherhood should be free to participate in constitution-making and elections

Anyone who has followed Middle East politics knows that this is a region where extremists tend to go all the way and moderates tend to just go away. But every once in a while — the 1993 Oslo peace negotiations,the 2006 Anbar uprising by Iraqi Sunnis against al-Qaeda,the 2005 Cedar Revolution in Lebanon against Syria and Hezbollah — the moderates actually rise up and take a stand. And when they do,America needs to be there to support them. I’d put last week’s popular uprising/ military coup against the Muslim Brotherhood-led Egyptian government — and it was a combination of both — in this category.

I do not arrive at that conclusion easily. It would have been far more preferable if President Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood’s party had been voted out of office in three years. This would have forced the party to confront its own incompetence and popular repudiation. I wish the Egyptian army,which has its own interests,had not been involved. A large number of Egyptians felt that waiting three years could have pushed Egypt over the edge. The country is so short of foreign currency to pay for fuel imports that gas lines and electricity shortages are everywhere. It was clear that Morsi was not focused on governing and appointing the best people for jobs. He was focused on digging himself and his party into power,so,by the time of the next presidential elections,Egypt could have had the worst of all worlds: an invincible government and an insoluble economic and social disaster.

One incident is very revealing of the Brotherhood’s priorities. The best way for Egypt to quickly earn foreign currency to buy food and fuel would be to revive tourism,which accounts for 10 per cent of the economy. On June 16,Morsi appointed 17 new governors. In Luxor,the heart of Egypt’s tourism industry,he appointed Adel al-Khayyat,a member of the Islamist militant group Gamaa al-Islamiyya,which had claimed responsibility for the massacre of 58 tourists in Luxor in 1997 — precisely to destroy tourism and hurt Hosni Mubarak’s government. Gamaa abandoned violence about a decade ago,although it has never repudiated the 1997 attack. Morsi’s own minister of tourism resigned in protest at the appointment,and Khayyat eventually quit,too. But it gives you an idea of what was going on. It would be like Chicago appointing a crony of Al Capone to lead its tourism bureau.

Advertising

Rather than punishing Egyptians for desperately trying to change course before they go over a cliff,America should use its aid and influence with the army to get the most out of this crisis. That starts by insisting that the Brotherhood leaders be released from jail and that the party and its media be free to contest the next parliamentary elections and have a voice in the constitution-writing process. Anyone who tries to govern Egypt alone will fail: Mubarak,the army,the Muslim Brothers,the liberals. Egypt is in a terrible deep hole,and the only way it can get out is with a national unity government that can make hard decisions and do the required heavy lifting.

Daron Acemoglu is co-author of the book Why Nations Fail,the simple thesis of which is that nations thrive when they develop “inclusive” political and economic institutions and fail when those institutions become “extractive” and concentrate power and opportunity in the hands of a few. Egypt,with its heavy state,notes Acemoglu,is a classic extractive society. What it needs most is a leader who can combine a spirit of inclusion with a brutal honesty to tell the people they have wasted so many years and really need to start over,by strengthening education,shrinking the state,stimulating entrepreneurship,empowering women and reforming the police and judiciary.

The New York Times