Why Egypt Needs a New Vision, Not a New President
In early 2011, the world witnessed a hitherto unseen and largely unexpected course of events in the Middle East. Following the eruption of protests ignited by Mohamed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunis, the entrenched dictatorships of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, and Yemen collapsed in domino fashion. Whereas Tunisia and Libya have made considerable progress in institution-building following the fall of their respective dictatorships, political transitions in Yemen and Egypt by and large failed to translate into stable democratic governance. And two-and-a-half years into the Arab Spring, the maelstrom of unrest has once again engulfed the Middle East. Supported by the protesters, Egypt's military coup may put a new leader in charge, but without a new vision and new solutions to pressing problems, neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the army can alter the current state of affairs.
Throughout the past few weeks, the world has been transfixed by the crisis in Egypt as the country's first democratically elected leader, Mohammed Morsi, was ousted under popular pressure. What ensued was a military coup d'état, which the protesters, who demanded that Morsi step down, might soon bitterly regret. Reflecting upon the takeover, leading U.S. scholar on the Middle East, Marc Lynch, wrote: "Nobody should celebrate a military coup against Egypt's first freely elected president, no matter how badly he failed or how badly they hate the Muslim Brotherhood. Turfing out Morsy will not come close to addressing the underlying failures that have plagued Egypt's catastrophic transition."
Indeed, Morsi's ouster is unlikely to provide a solution to the socio-economic issues, which Cairo has been facing both before and after the revolution. To be sure, following the most recent global financial crisis, Egypt's economy has descended into chaos: GDP shortfall, decline in foreign direct investment, devaluation of the national currency, drops in tourism revenues, rampant inflation, and woeful unemployment rates have been plaguing the economy en masse. Hence, it would be naïve at best to suggest that any leader, be it Mohammed Morsi or Adly Mansour, would be able to tackle economic woes, let alone rectify the root causes of Egypt's hardship in a short-term perspective.
In part, Egypt's economic disaster emanates from the neoliberal policies, which had been foisted on the Mubarak regime by the International Monetary Fund through its contingent loans. Instead of promoting prosperity for all via free market self-regulation, neoliberalism in Egypt led to the mounting sense of socio-economic grievance among working Egyptians, whose widespread anger at the regime shifted toward the global economic order after the ouster of Mubarak. The Egyptians are blaming the U.S. and Western financial institutions for the havoc they have wrought by imposing free-market fundamentalism on their country. For many in Egypt, neoliberalism was a tough pill to swallow indeed.
There is little hope, however, that Egypt’s interim government and its successor will be capable of finding a route out of the current economic impasse. Ashraf al-Araby, the interim government’s planning minister, recently stated that “political and social” pressures will thwart further negotiations with the IMF. For the time being, Egypt will receive aid from its Arab neighbors, but the question remains whether this is a viable solution in the long run. A comprehensive overhaul of economic policies is needed before Egypt can embark on a road to stable governance.
Regardless of who becomes the next president of Egypt, Moscow should pay close heed to political and economic dynamics in the country. Although it is unclear whether Russian wheat aid to Egypt will bring any political dividends for the Kremlin, policymakers should give it a try. Inasmuch as Russia is often criticized in the Middle East for its support for the Assad regime in Syria's civil war, Moscow must prove that its ultimate goal is to bring peace and stability in the region. Helping Egypt during this shaky transition would open new paths to Russia’s comeback to the Middle East.