The Yomiuri Shimbun (Feb. 4, 2012)
Egypt must rebuild economy by building democracy
An important milestone has been achieved in Egypt's progress toward democracy.
An election for the People's Assembly, or lower house of parliament, has been carried out, with a political party founded by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic fundamentalist organization, emerging as the biggest winner.
After the overthrow in February last year of the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, the transfer to civilian government has been progressing under the provisional rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Another major advance for democratization is the fact that the National Emergency Law, which granted overwhelming powers to the police, was lifted in principle for the first time in about 30 years in the wake of the lower house election.
The Muslim Brotherhood had been banned from engaging in political activities under the Mubarak regime, although it garnered considerable public support through its benevolent activities, such as providing medical services to the poor.
Thorny road to power shift
This time, however, it was free to take part in the parliamentary election, fielding candidates of its own party, the Freedom and Justice Party.
The party won nearly a half of the lower house seats, and its secretary general has been elected speaker of the lower chamber.
Nevertheless, there are a mountain of challenges that must be resolved before the shift from the provisional rule to a civilian government can be realized.
If the ongoing election of the upper house, or Shura (Consultative) Council of the legislature, is concluded in February as scheduled, the two chambers are to set up a 100-member panel to draft a constitution. The draft of the new constitution will then be put to a national referendum, and a new president is to be elected by the end of June.
There are fears that the process of writing the new constitution may be hard going, as it will face such issues as the powers and duties of the president and parliament, what role the military should play and to what extent the constitution should reflect Islamic teachings.
This is because while many young Egyptians have been seeking an immediate end to military rule, many others still pin their hopes on the military as a source of stability during the transition.
How relations develop between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood is said to be of key significance to Egypt's political future.
If the two remain hostile to each other, as they did in the Mubarak era, the country's politics can hardly move forward.
Reconciliation and compromise between the two forces are indispensable for averting confusion.
The military and the Muslim Brotherhood also have a responsibility to buckle down to the task of rehabilitating the Egyptian economy.
Islamic strength on rise
The economic downturn in Egypt ever since last year's political upheaval has been serious, resulting from such causes as sharp declines in the number of tourists.
The military rulers have acknowledged the need for support from the International Monetary Fund and have entered negotiations with the IMF on specific aid plans.
The Muslim Brotherhood is committed to efforts to make Islamic values compatible with a market economy.
For example, it has indicated it is in favor of adopting a policy of exempting foreign tourists from the Islamic ban on drinking.
This can be taken as a sign of pragmatism on the part of the Muslim Brotherhood in light of the importance of tourism to the Egyptian economy.
In parliament, the Freedom and Justice Party is reportedly groping for ways to formulate an alliance with secular political parties.
Attention is being paid to whether the FJP and secular parties can reach an agreement on basic policy matters.
In the Middle East and North Africa, where the storm of transformations called the "Arab Spring" has been blowing, the power of Islamist forces has been on the rise along with moves for democratization.
The Muslim Brotherhood's moves from now on will likely serve as a litmus test about whether democracy can take root in these regions.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Feb. 3, 2012)