Constitutional Process in Egypt Must Be All-Inclusive, Mohamed Elmenshawy of the Middle East Institute tells Qorvis Focus Washington

Sep 09, 2013, 14:53 ET from Focus Washington

The roles of religion and the armed forces need to be understood.

WASHINGTON, Aug. 30, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The constitutional process in Egypt must be all-inclusive, according to Mohamed Elmenshawy, Director of Languages and regional studies at the Middle East Institute, a Washington policy-research institution.

“There are a lot of voices within the interim government that would like to exclude the Islamists from the political process, which would be a disaster and would create instability,” Elmenshawy said in reference to leaving out the Muslim Brotherhood

Elmenshawy also recommends freezing military aid totally to Egypt for seven months, or until the constitution is established.  American aid could be released after this period if the transition meets democratic standards.

Elmenshawy discussed the political situation in Egypt, the ongoing unrest in the country and the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in an interview with Chuck Conconi on QorvisFocus Washington.  Elmenshawy, a journalist and political commentator for many American, Egyptian, and Arab publications, offered insights as to how the U.S. could incentivize Egypt to regain stability through the constitutional process.

The U.S. has leverage because U.S. aid is irreplaceable, he said.  Even the more than $12 billion coming from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations is not enough to provide the type of military support that the Egyptian military needs. Non-US aid can "buy everything, they can help in the economy, they can buy the needed fuels or food, but not American arms and American military equipment... So the money that Saudi Arabia does give has some limits," he said.

Headed toward disaster

Elmenshawy is not confident that progress can be made in Egypt in the next year, based on what he has observed thus far on the ground in Egypt and in the broader Middle East.

He laments that "Arab people are not ready to discuss two serious issues: the role of religion in the public sphere and politics…and the role of military service, the armed forces in the Arab countries." Until these issues are addressed and accounted for in the new government, "Egypt looks headed toward a disaster."

"A lot of voices are calling to exclude the Muslim Brotherhood from the political game and Islamists in general from the political competition. I believe this is a formula for disaster. If you exclude parties that won the majority and the presidency in the last two and a half years, it's a nightmare," he said.

"In Islamic countries, to have separation between the state and church, as we have in Western Europe and the United States, is impossible," he said. "The only thing people understand in the Arab world is religion: the language of religion, the etymology of religion, and the politics of religion. So I don't see a solution yet how to integrate it, but it should be part of the political competition, political rhetoric, and political discourse."  This is particularly true for a country like Egypt, where about 80% to 90% are Muslim and religion permeates their lives.

Learning from previous mistakes: constitution first

The Muslim Brotherhood was not necessarily an obvious favorite in the elections that followed the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, contrary to what the results might have suggested, according to Elmenshawy.  During the first round of voting, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohamed Morsi, received only 25% of the vote.  He earned 51% of the vote in the second round from people "who didn't want a former officer or official of the Mubarak regime," not because of his Islamist party affiliation.

"The equation that is needed in the Arab world and in Egypt is to have a constitution first. That would clear the road for acceptable rule of political competition, and that's what we missed in the first transition," which is why Egyptians find themselves in a similar crisis just over two years later.

"Now, after the ousting of President Morsi, I believe we need to make rules that are clear and respected by everybody in the form of a constitution that will protect the rights of the people, fair and clear for everybody, and then have elections. But elections first would be a historical mistake," he cautions.

"We shouldn't rush to elections, especially because Egypt is full of riots now, violence is taking place on a daily basis, so having an election now is very naïve."

SOURCE Focus Washington