EGYPT, a cradle of civilisation with a millennia-long continuous history, is at last making the transition to democracy.
For the first time, this nation, once the bread basket of the Roman Empire, whose pharaohs were antagonists of the prophet of monotheism, Moses, has brought in a popularly elected civilian president intended to finally end decades of dictatorship. That the Muslim majority electorate has brought in an Islamist president is natural given years of political oppression. For want of democratic space, politics has been reduced to religion versus autocratic secularism, with the Mubarak regime championing the latter and the Muslim Brotherhood the former. Logically then, the election came down to these two organised factions and victory would be delivered to the Islamists, considering the fresh memories of Mubarak's misrule.
Seeking national unity as opposed to partisan politics, the president-elect, Mohamed Morsi, is doing his rounds of meeting with all stakeholders, including the minority Coptic Christians who make up 10 per cent of the population. And, despite pre-election rhetoric by some, he has pledged to honour all international agreements. His initial remarks are clearly coming from a moderate perspective looking to please all and upset none, including the military that has in recent days been actively securing its position with the intention of circumscribing the incoming president. Civilian rule was already frustrated by the dissolution of the Islamist-dominated Lower House of Parliament. Even under these circumstances, there is much hope for democracy given the Turkish example, where secular politics sits comfortably with a Muslim majority citizenry and a military that has been safely confined to barracks.
Islam is not necessarily an enemy of democracy as critics allege. Whatever threat exists can only come from the novelty of democracy itself to a people unfamiliar with pluralism and a diversity of political options that finds expression at the ballot box. Indeed, an open political system is ripe for agent provocateurs. Inasmuch as the revolution has been a popular one, the survival of democracy in Egypt must also lie in the hands of those who have filled Tahrir Square in Cairo and other similar venues throughout the country. Barring external interference -- as is plaguing the Middle East -- the Egyptians can hope to see a march forward for democracy in lockstep with a retreat in the other direction by the military. For, in the final analysis, are not the servicemen themselves Egyptians? If Indonesia is to be a point of reference, the people's victory there was in large part ensured by the soldiers' change of heart.