Egypt: Security, Political, and Islamist Challenges
Authored by Dr. Sherifa D. Zuhur.
This monograph approaches three issues in contemporary Egypt: failures of governance and political development, the continued strength of Islamism, and counterterrorism. The Egyptian government forged a truce with its most troublesome Islamist militants in 1999. However, violence emerged again from new sources of Islamist militancy from 2003 into 2006. All of the previously held conclusions about the role of state strength versus movements divisions that led to the truce are now void as “Al-Qa’idism” continues to plague Egypt. The even more pressing need for democratization has been setback by the security situation. Yet political pressures might threaten the country's stability more thoroughly, in the longer run, than the sporadic terrorist attacks. Widespread political discontent has been expressed for the last several years and, unless uneven economic conditions improve and greater consensus is achieved, Egypt could move in one of three different directions.
This monograph approaches three issues in contemporary Egypt: failures of governance and political development, the continued strength of Islamism, and counterterrorism. It is easier to tackle their contours in Egypt if they are considered separately. They are not, however, separate or independent; continuing to treat them as mutually exclusive conditions will lead to further crisis down the road.
Egyptian failures of governance have taken place through three eras: monarchy and the liberal experiment, the period of Arab socialism, and Egypt’s reopening to the West under Presidents Sadat and Mubarak. In combination with a large military and security establishment in Egypt, these failures meant a continuing authoritarian government has served and used its military and security apparatuses to block significant political transformation. The failures of governance provide grievances for Islamist militants and moderates, and also for many ordinary Egyptians, and inhibit the growth of political or civic maturity.
The Egyptian government forged a truce with its most troublesome Islamist militants in 1999. However, violence emerged again from new sources of Islamist militancy from 2003 into 2006. All of the previously held conclusions about the role of state strength versus movements that led to the truce are now void as it appears that “Al-Qa’idism” may continue to plague Egypt, and indeed, the region as a whole. In consequence, an important process of political liberalization was slowed, and in 3 to 4 years, if not sooner, Egypt’s political security and stability will be at risk. Widespread economic and political discontent might push that date forward. In addition, continuing popular support for moderate Islamism could lead to a situation where the current peace could erode, unless a comprehensive peace settlement to the Palestinian- Arab-Israeli conflict is achieved and if various other factors were to come into play.
Observations for the future and recommendations made in this monograph include the following ideas:
1. U.S. policymakers can expect to see the continued emergence of radical Islamist elements in Egypt due to the regional spread of jihadist ideology, failures of governance, repression and injustice in counterterrorist measures, and antipathy to Western and Israeli policies.
2. Economic progress is being made in Egypt, but more needs to be done to ensure the stability of the population.
3. Policymakers need to acknowledge the strength of Islamism in Egypt and consider that the legalization and inclusion of moderate Islamists—a trend in Iraq—may inhibit radical Islamists as well as popular disaffection.
4. While the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is committed to justice for the Palestinians, the organization as a whole has shifted on many other issues. It would be unwise to support governmental attacks on this group simply on the basis of this issue, or to promote democratization only if it excludes Islamist actors.
5. Policymakers should realize that Egypt will come to a political turning point by 2011, if not sooner.
6. U.S. policymakers need to educate themselves about the second effects of Egypt’s economic transformation and development plans. They should encourage the Egyptian government to reform public education and health-care more thoroughly and establish a means for citizens to participate in consensual community-based decisions. A more civic-minded culture needs to be created.
7. U.S. policymakers should insist that the Egyptian government ensure the political and human rights of citizens, ending the use of torture, extra-legal physical abuse, and irregular detentions, and reinstate judicial oversight of the electoral process. The mistreatment of the political opposition, prisoners, and the electoral violence and irregularities of the last several elections have no place in a free and democratic Egypt.
8. U.S. policymakers should be aware of Egyptians’ distaste for American views expressed about Islam and Muslims in the “war of ideas.” Treating Egyptian Muslims as if they are the source of the war on terror instead of an ally in that war is counterproductive.
9. Egyptians should not be excluded nor shut themselves out of the discussions on counterterrorism and the future of the Middle East, which take place on the American policymaking stage.
10. U.S. policymakers should consider the 2006 critique of U.S. military aid given to Egypt and the demands for political reform and cessation of support to Gazan militants in a 2007 congressional bill attached to a portion— $200 million—of that aid. The large size of the security forces in Egypt (at 1 million persons), in combination with the military and its political economy, requires frequent review, particularly in tandem with an understanding of Egypt’s regional foreign policy. The attempt to tie military aid to Egypt’s internal policies angered Egyptian officials. A new ten-year military assistance plan was announced at the end of July 2007. The linkage of aid to reform could, however, resurface in the future.
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