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UPHILL TASK: Newly elected president must redouble his efforts to reach out to all segments of society
THE newly elected president of Egypt, Dr Mohamed Morsi, has pledged to establish a democratic, constitutional state based upon the rule of law and the will of the people. The greatest challenge that he faces in realising this goal is the leadership of the nation's armed forces.
Morsi will do well to remember that there is hardly a single instance of a military deeply entrenched in power transferring its authority in a smooth and easy manner to civilian rulers.
For him to establish a functioning democratic system, he must not only persevere and be principled but also possess superb negotiating skills and clever strategies. His greatest ally in this tussle with military power will be the citizenry of Egypt.
Since almost half of the voting population did not endorse his presidency, Morsi will have to redouble his efforts to reach out to all segments of society. In a nutshell, his approach to politics and policies should be inclusive and all-embracing. By resigning from the Ikhwanul Muslimin (Muslim Brotherhood), and projecting himself as the president of all Egyptians, Morsi has taken the first step in that direction.
A truly inclusive president will accord priority to the long-neglected, huge underclass in Egyptian society. These are the millions, 40 per cent of the population live in poverty, struggling to eke out a living.
How will Morsi and his policy-makers and planners address these challenges? If they are going to pursue more liberalisation, deregulation and privatisation -- as the Ikhwan's economic programme al-Nahda seems to suggest -- then they are adopting the wrong approach. Such an approach will not help to transform the lives of the disenfranchised and the downtrodden.
A reformed, de-bureaucratised, corruption-free public sector will have to take the lead. It will have to raise incomes of the lower echelons of society; emphasise public housing for the homeless; invest in small and medium-sized enterprises; focus upon human resource development.
People's cooperatives will have to be established which will help to break existing monopolies in the production and distribution of goods and services. Public entities will have to be re-organised to manage water and energy supply and distribution. Infrastructure development which benefits the poor directly will be given priority.
In this and other areas, a socially responsible private sector channelling domestic and foreign capital in accordance with the nation's goals, will have a key role to play.
Analysts have asked if vested interests within and without Egypt will allow such an egalitarian, justice-driven economic policy to take root.
It is revealing that both Morsi and Shafiq put forward economic ideas which in essence sought to assure the wealthy in Egypt and international capital that their interests would be safeguarded.
Only the candidate who emerged a close third in the first round of the presidential election, Hamdeen Sabahy, offered a genuine alternative that privileged the economically marginalised. It was obvious why the mainstream Western media downplayed his economic agenda.
It is not just on the economy that Morsi appears to have adopted a certain stance. On an important foreign policy issue, namely, US military bases in the region and the upgrading of facilities for the US' Fifth Fleet in Bahrain, Morsi and the Ikhwan have been rather quiet.
And what is even more critical, the centres of power in the West will watch him closely on his position on Syria and on Egypt's relations with Iran.
But more than anything else, it is on the question of Israel that Washington, its European allies, and Israel itself, will judge Morsi.
Morsi has promised all of them that he will respect all international treaties that Egypt has entered into -- which would of course include the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.
However, they are not sure if Morsi will at some point in the future, succumb to pressure from the masses to review and rescind the treaty, especially since Egyptian public opinion has never been in favour of it.
Because Morsi presides over a democracy, he cannot -- unlike Mubarak the dictator -- afford to ignore popular sentiments. Besides, he himself had campaigned in the election as a staunch defender of the Palestinian cause.
How will Morsi's commitment to Palestine manifest itself now that he is president? Will the new Egyptian president lead the campaign for a just peace for the Palestinians -- a peace that will ensure the return of Palestinian refugees to their land, as provided for in international law, a peace that recognises East Jeru-salem as the capital of a new, viable Palestinian state with its own army, navy and air force?
Since a just peace of this sort is anathema to Israeli leaders and most Zionists and Christian Zionists in the US, what will Morsi do? Will he abandon these fundamental demands of the Palestinian struggle?
What will be the consequences if he does? Or will he stand up to the Israeli elite and their patrons and protectors in the West? Again, what will be the ramifications?
It is because Israel and Western powers are worried about how a democratically elected president in the Arab world's most important state may move the pieces on the Israel-Palestine/Arab chessboard that they would like the military, with its close ties to Israel and the West, to maintain a grip upon Egyptian politics.
That is why these so-called champions of democracy have been somewhat reticent about the military's undemocratic dissolution of Parliament and its shackling of the presidency. This should not surprise us. After all, haven't they always placed their own hegemonic interests above democratic principles?
A longer version of the above article is on www.just-international.org