Egypt’s new government came to office Thursday and many people will continue to focus on the delicate balance of power between the Muslim Brotherhood and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.
Prime Minister Hisham Qandil called it the “people’s government,” but this isn’t accurate. It excluded a wide swath of the population, since the new Cabinet has no members who represent some of the leading figures in last year’s uprising, namely young people and liberals.
If both the Brotherhood and the military continue to believe that they deserve the biggest credit for the transition from the rule of Hosni Mubarak, it will prove to be a recipe for failure. The simple fact is that Egypt faces a set of huge challenges, and the question of whether or not they can be solved will eventually overshadow the details of the makeup of Qandi’s Cabinet.
After more than a year following the upheaval, Egypt’s economy is in shambles and the fortunes of millions of people depend on whether government officials can revitalize sectors such as tourism, industry and agriculture, and attract much-needed foreign investment.
Amid such conditions, it’s no surprise that the security situation remains precarious.
Some of the problems are structural, and are inherited from the old regime, such as the overlapping prerogatives of the many military, police and intelligence bodies that are responsible for the safety and security of the public.
But the simple fact is that whoever is responsible, President Mohammad Mursi and Prime Minister Hisham Qandil are in the driver’s seat. In many parts of the country, any spark could set off a conflagration, as people have seen this week.
A few days before the inauguration of the Qandil Cabinet, a seemingly trivial incident exploded into sectarian tension in a village, while on the day of the ceremony itself, in the capital, a dispute over wage payments in the private sector quickly turned into a deadly riot.
Other challenges also await. The new authorities in Egypt have yet to spell out exactly what they intend to do about the country’s judiciary, since Mursi has disregarded an earlier higher court decision that dissolved parliament. Moreover, the new rulers have yet to make explicit their foreign policy orientations. Finally, the course of drafting and endorsing a new constitution might be clear in the minds of Mursi and Qandil, but they must remember that in the end, the new document should embody the principles of fairness, while being satisfactory to all sides.
While it would be unfair to expect solutions for all these issues, the new Cabinet must simply turn in a high-powered performance, beginning immediately.
Egypt’s future steps are hugely important for a region in turmoil. The country can serve as an impetus for division, or as a model of stability and good governance, which was after all the people’s demand in the first place.