A few days ago Egypt announced the dates for the new presidential election for the end of May 2014. These will be conducted under the new constitution that established a democratic foundation by clearly defining the responsibilities of the office of the president and a fundamental increase in responsibility for a new Egyptian Parliament.
Since the beginning of 2014, Egypt’s political situation has continued to evolve with the drafting of this new constitution by the Committee of 50, a group of Egypt’s most prominent leaders. The constitution was approved by approximately 98 percent of voters in a nation-wide constitutional referendum. Nearly 40 percent of the total electorate took to the polls, a greater turnout than any election prior.
Unlike the 2012 election, where the winner of a run-off in a deeply divided electorate gained the right to draft the constitution to his own liking, the current constitution is based on far greater national consensus.
Another significant change is reflected in the lively debate on the potential presidential candidates, which can be heard on every street and in every home. Citizens are no longer easily won over by a party name or a reputation. Instead, candidates must actively work to earn votes. Colossal changes such as this are often overlooked and undervalued by external analysts. Delivery is the litmus test.
The rules of the game are now clear: our leader will be democratically elected, the legal process for transfer of power will be adhered to consistently, and a system of checks and balances is in place. In addition, the new constitution made a conscious effort to increase separation of religion and state, fortifying a critical correction to our political foundation. This ensures that neither of the two wings of the Egyptian public, the Muslim majority and the Christian minority, be marginalized or excluded.
Egypt’s next leader must honor this civil foundation, focusing on unifying rather than dividing the country.
The next president must respect the rights and requirements of all Egyptians. This will be achieved through sustainable development programs, better civil services, job creation, revamped education and health systems, and improvements in infrastructure - changes that will raise the living standard of all Egyptians. Not to mention, consistency of delivery on promises.
Presidential candidates are charged with developing strategies to address the two greatest challenges ahead of them: economic development and security. A successful economic strategy will need to include reforms, subsidies, development of the public sector, attracting FDI and local private investment, tourism growth, and an increased presence in the global market. All of these measures will add hope to very dire situation.
Intimately linked to the economy is the national security.
Egypt is fighting terrorism, which has transitioned from attacks on the public, as well as on security forces, to a deliberate plan predicated on economic disruption. Its perpetrators seek to destabilize the economy in order to create a failed state in Egypt, falsely believing that such conditions would provide an opportunity to seize power.
With these economic and security challenges in mind, a reassessment of Egypt’s geopolitical strategy is needed.
Egypt’s cooperation with the U.S. military ensures that Egypt plays a key role in both peacekeeping missions around the world and counter-terrorism. As such it will be key that the United States play a more central role in supporting the Egyptian people in their ongoing political and economic processes. This can only be achieved with further trust-building measures, partnership, and open dialog on a strategic level, as well as military and security assistance. Egypt must lead from the front, with clarity and purpose, not follow from behind with dependency and uncertainty.
The clock cannot and will not turn back. To move forward, Egypt must take the lead forward; all players must abstain from any form violence as a political tool.
Egypt is in a phase of transformation. While it seeks to reorganize its entire political structure and is on the verge of selecting its next leader, it must also look beyond its borders to cultivate mutually beneficial relationships with its allies.
Badr is the regional managing director of Abercrombie & Kent for Egypt and the Middle East, and a board member on the Egypt – U.S. Business Council.