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Egypt's Turbulent Transition

by The Journal of Turkish Weekly | 2 August 2012

There is a hybrid process of transitional justice currently taking shape in Egypt. The military, the judiciary and the politicians are all poised in a delicate balance of power. This balance of power has been characterized as a steady transition into an economic and politically stable Egypt, by both the Turkish foreign minister and the Turkish ambassador to Egypt. Yet as countless examples from countries under transitional periods demonstrate, there is no guarantee that such a transition will take place. More importantly, the kind of change that is demanded and that should take place is far less clear than simply instituting an electoral democracy. The uprisings demanded a real change in both the political economy and the decision-making process of Egypt, with greater levels of participation in politics and also in the economy, stronger civil society and more active trade unions. Therefore a critical analysis of both the different actors holding this balance of power and the demands of the Egyptian people is necessary.

 
To begin with, the Egyptian military currently controls somewhere between 15-40% percent of the Egyptian economy according to an estimate by the Washington Institute for Near Eastern Studies, giving it great leverage in the political process. Although the Egyptian people do not have the same confidence they had in the SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forced) a year ago, low turnout in the presidential election of around 47% in the first round and 51% in the second round indicates that people are not enthusiastic about what a political party can achieve. This leaves people dissatisfied with a military elite that has an important grasp on their economic lives. 
 
Similarly the judiciary, although seemingly allying with the SCAF on some levels, is another independent force that should be taken into account. The Egyptian judiciary gained an autonomous feature long before the fall of the Mubarak regime. First gaining its independence during Anwar Sadat’s regime, the judiciary held an autonomous nature throughout Mubarak’s rule. This was because ensuring an independent judiciary was critical in creating viable investment opportunities in the country, especially for foreign investors. The aggressive nationalization that Egypt experienced during Nasser’s rule meant that the independence of the judiciary was a critical factor in ensuring foreign investors that this would not be repeated. Courts could often dissolve parliaments and political parties and were an active agent of change during the uprisings. This autonomy has had a transformative effect in the post-Mubarak era as well with the State Council Courts (special administrative courts) dissolving Mubarak’s political party, intervening in the making of the new constitution so as to guarantee the process is not dominated by one political party.
 
The SCC will have to rule on the constitutionality of an important matter in the Egyptian elections that may result in the dissolution of the current Egyptian parliament. Arguing that the hybrid election system that was used in the latest elections is unconstitutional as it discriminates against independent candidates, the SCC could demand fresh elections for the parliament. This puts the judiciary in a sensitive position between the SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood.
 
With the Egyptian trade deficit reaching $28 billion and the GDP growth slowing from 3.8% to 1%, the economic implications this lack of confidence may have is important. Perhaps the key economic indicator is most ordinary Egyptians not participating in the economy. For example, although small to medium sized enterprises up 80% of the country’s employment, women’s participation in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) is as low as 2%. As for ease of doing business for SMEs, Egypt ranks 110th out of 183 countries. This is much lower than the regional average of 93. For critical issues such as obtaining credit or enforcing contracts of SMEs, Egypt ranks even lower at 147th in the world. When the dominating effect the SCAF and the political elite have over the economy is considered, this can lead to large sections of the country being marginalized and alienated in the economic process.
 
This economic marginalization is further represented in the alienation of women and disadvantaged people from the Egyptian parliament. Currently less than 2% of members of parliament are female. Similarly, the youth are finding it hard to participate both in the political and the electorate process with 20% youth unemployment, and the figure rising to 55% for women with university degrees. This has been reflected in the presidential elections with a number of youth movements calling for a boycott of the presidential elections. 
 
An air of economic and political dissatisfaction can be felt throughout Egypt with continuing strikes and protests. Just a couple of weeks ago, over 23,000 workers went on strike at one of the biggest textile factories in Egypt demanding a share in the company profits as well as a higher minimum wage . Similarly strikes in hospitals, schools and universities have become common in Egypt over the last year. These are all signs that the current status quo is unacceptable and that the demand for a change in the political economy is still present. The current political structure is especially regrettable because people who are most hit by this are people who have shown an important contribution in the uprisings. This is especially true of liberals. Accounting for a combined 11 million votes (five million more than Morsi) in the first round, the liberal-secular bloc suffered from a lack of organization and fragmentation in Egypt. This group, which is highly critical of some of the policies of the SCAF, seems politically and economically trapped between the Muslim Brotherhood and the SCAF. Yet in order to ensure democratic pluralism and greater participation in the political economy, the liberal movement must embrace the democratic approval the Muslim Brotherhood enjoys. A strong democratic movement together with the Muslim Brotherhood is surely much more compelling, than a bargain between the Muslim Brotherhood and the SCAF which can leave parts of the population further alienated. In conclusion, the full transition can take years in Egypt. However to ensure that the transition does take place, both the Muslim Brotherhood and liberal parties ought to put their faith in democratic pluralism and must appeal to the marginalized groups.
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