Symbol in distress

Egyptians walk past election graffiti near Tahrir square in Cairo June 14, 2012. (REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah)

This weekend, Egypt embarks on the latest phase in the saga of its transition away from authoritarianism and toward democracy, and the fate of the country’s economy, among other things, hangs in the balance.

It is no exaggeration to say the second and decisive round of a presidential election will capture the attention of Egyptians, the region and the rest of the world.

However, the alarm bells have already been set off loudly in the wake of the twin rulings by the Supreme Constitutional Court Thursday dissolving parliament and endorsing the eligibility of Ahmad Shafiq, who faces off against the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammad Mursi to become the next president of Egypt.

While the Brotherhood is understandably outraged by the rulings, youth groups gathered in Tahrir Square Friday to protest the turn of events. However, angry protesters brandishing shoes against portraits of Shafiq, who for them represents the Mubarak era, do not have much to offer if they merely express outrage.

Egypt’s military leaders, political parties and the general public must draw on maturity to help their country find its way out of its current impasse. In one sense, there are no hidden agendas at play, since most people are aware of the obvious power struggle that has erupted.

It’s the kind of situation that has given rise to deep despair among some segments of the public who have already begun organizing a “just say no” campaign to boycott both candidates for Egypt’s presidency.

The past 18 months are replete with the kinds of mistakes and faltering steps that should be avoided in the future if Egypt is to remain afloat. International financial institutions have already signaled their alarm about the direction things are taking, and outside investors will be watching the polls closely to see if they should take further risks on Egypt. The country’s currency has been undermined by the turmoil, and the political unrest has prevented the flow of much-needed international aid.

Like it or not, the Egyptian people in the post-Mubarak era have inherited a heavily indebted and under-performing economy, and the last 18 months have generated a tremendous amount of damage.

Egyptians must put the past behind them, while remembering all of the mistakes made along the way so that they can chart a better future.

Democracy isn’t about tossing around slogans, or shoes. It’s about creating the mechanisms of governance that work, and providing solutions to a host of political, economic and social problems. Egyptians must simply put aside their differences and work together, to bring their country back from the brink of the abyss.

This weekend’s presidential polls, the coming parliamentary elections, and the ongoing political transition, aren’t just a domestic issue, because many people throughout the region are looking to Egypt as the most potent symbol of the “Arab Spring.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 16, 2012, on page 7.




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