Egypt in transition - perspectives for the Middle East and North Africa

25 March 2011

Ambassador Nabil Fahmy, Founding Dean of the School of Public affairs at the American University in Cairo, said that the current revolution is primarily about freedom of ideas and values, not essentially about poverty and wealth.

What is unique about what has happened in Egypt is that this was a people's revolution - led by youth and supported by society. Because this was a popular revolution that happened quickly, the demonstrators had not considered the process of transition, which is why the revolution was handed over to a caretaker, the military. There is not a clear roadmap of what is going to happen next, but to encourage the right result in a democracy it is essential to have a large number of stakeholders involved and this is what needs to happen in Egypt. Enough time now needs to be given to allow new political parties to be established to realistically compete with the old parties so that when a parliament is developed, and a president is elected, they will be truly reflective of the whole of Egyptian society.

This is a new Egypt and it was too early to say where it would end up, but the Ambassador was confident and optimistic in the long term. The debate in Egypt today is a little bit too much about religious or nonreligious but this is not deep-rooted, it is a product of a commercial press that likes a provocative story.

The common thread throughout the Arab world today is that people want better standards of good governance, but not all the current disturbances are caused by the same thing and the solutions are different. The ambassador felt the EU should stop being reactive, and look at the common thread as well as the details on the ground. The complexity of each case should be considered so that basic principles are followed rather than a one model fits all policy. If the EU wants Egypt to succeed in its democratic movements then it needs to focus on capacity building not on the mechanics of democracy.

Turning to foreign policy, he said that Egypt wants to be an active player in the global theatre, and this requires acceptance of international norms, practices and procedures. It will continue to want good relations with Europe and the West and to pursue a comprehensive peace in the Middle East. There will be a difference, however, as Egypt becomes more democratic - a democratic government will have to be responsive to its constituency.