National Commentary

Egypt Now Needs Economic Support

bentonmug

The amazing events in Egypt this year, despite rough sledding for other popular uprisings in nations whose populations are also seeking reform in the Middle East, remain viable for a long march to democracy, a member of the group of 100 that will begin crafting a new constitution for the country told me in an exclusive interview this week.

The amazing events in Egypt this year, despite rough sledding for other popular uprisings in nations whose populations are also seeking reform in the Middle East, remain viable for a long march to democracy, a member of the group of 100 that will begin crafting a new constitution for the country told me in an exclusive interview this week.

Tarek Zaher, a prominent professor of urology at Ain Shams University in Cairo, has been in Washington, D.C. attending a medical convention. In a meeting arranged through a mutual friend he has known since childhood, Dr. Zaher, once an adviser to Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, told me that the main thing now threatening the progress toward democracy in Egypt, and throughout the region, is economic lack.

“Egypt will be bankrupt in six months,” he said. The revolution has brought the domestic economy to a standstill as throughout the nation in every factory and business, workers are taking up the spirit of democracy and free speech to suddenly prefer speaking out to working.

As a result, Dr. Zaher said, the transitional Egyptian government has had to dip into its reserves to the tune of $3 billion per month, and at that rate, the reserves will be exhausted in six months. At that point, the population, already deep in poverty, will face starvation, as the government will be unable to continue its program of subsidizing basic food costs.

“Egypt is key to the entire region,” he said. “All the rest of the Arab world will imitate what happens in Egypt.” He said a successful transformation to democracy there will ensure that democracy eventually comes to the entire region.

He suggested that if the U.S. decided to launch an economic Marshall Plan for the region, that democracy throughout would thrive. Short of that, he said, he hopes the U.S. will come to the immediate aid of Egypt with economic resources, even large donations of basic wheat and bread.

He said that the revolution has been, as reported, a legitimate uprising of the people, led by the young who organized through the social media, including Facebook.

It was not instigated by the Egyptian Army, as some have claimed, in order to prevent Mubarek’s son from succeeding him. But the Army took advantage of the opening created by the uprising to achieve that result. When Mubarek ordered the Army to put down the uprisings, the Army refused to obey.

Now, Dr. Zaher believes, the Army has a vested interest in helping to move the nation toward a stable democracy.

By that means, he said, the Army feels it can insure that a small minority of extremists, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, do not seize control of power. Already, he noted, while the Muslim Brotherhood represents less than 10 percent of the population, it is seeking 50 percent participation in drafting the new constitution.

With so much of the population poor and uneducated, a group like the Muslim Brotherhood could wield inordinate power unless firm guarantees of a lawful process toward fair elections and the rule of law are put into place.

Chosen to participate in the group of 100 that begins meeting this weekend to draft a constitution, Dr. Zaher said that he has submitted three progressive proposals modeled on the German constitution, which he said, is very similar to the U.S.’s.

His input calls for three measures.

The first is to make it a crime to lie, which would involve a major shift in the way a lot of the culture functions, he said.

The second involves a clever way to overcome prejudice and discrimination by establishing criteria for ensuring the equal protection under the law of all persons. It involves the German model for use of medical expertise to establish the gender of all persons, and thus to ensure them of the protections afforded to each gender accordingly. This would basically outlaw all discrimination based on existing prejudices, he said.

The third would afford any citizen the choice to accept the Moslem prescription for the distribution of wealth following death, which defers very strongly to male heirs, or to select another non-Moslem prescription, such as the equal distribution of wealth between male and female.


Nicholas Benton may be emailed at [email protected]