Defiant dawn

Supporters of Egypt's Islamist President-elect Mohamed Mursi cheer during his speech in Cairo's Tahrir Square, June 29, 2012.(REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Once again, Tahrir Square in Cairo has captured the attention of millions of people in the region and around the world anxious to hear the first public address by Egypt’s newly elected civilian president.

Mohammad Mursi did not disappoint the faithful Friday. He delivered a strong challenge to the country’s military while his supporters were busy shouting for an end to the Egyptian army’s grip over public affairs, including the recent controversial decision to dissolve parliament, dominated by Islamist groups.

Mursi certainly engaged in theatrics as he hailed the path of his Muslim Brotherhood and the launch of its “revolution” in the 1920s.

The new president might be forgiven for giving in to the passion of the moment – it was a day for celebrating his electoral victory, but rhetoric can only go so far.

The Brotherhood can talk about the 1920s all it wants, but the sobering fact is that 2020 is just around the corner. Does Mursi have a serious plan for ensuring that Egypt will be stable and prosperous by that time, whether or not he is still president?

Everyone is aware of the clout of Egypt’s military as well as its vast network of economic interests, which have taken shape over recent decades.

Does Mursi intend to engage in a bruising political battle with the military, or does he intend to oversee a process of political and economic reform, one that reassures all sides and not just supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood?

While Mursi’s party and other groups have legitimate grievances, they are now in office, and must act responsibly instead of pursuing pointless vendettas.

The focus of Egypt’s new rulers should be on settling the people down and not increasing the dose of tension already present in society.

If Mursi’s performance represented a one-time victory lap, perhaps there is hope for a better future. But if he is serious about beginning his term by throwing down the gauntlet to the military, it is a hurdle that should be avoided.

Now more than ever, Egypt requires a statesmanlike attitude from its top officials. Embracing a tactic of defiance will be counterproductive.

Mursi has committed himself to a civil state based on democracy. But the vast array of political, social and economic challenges faced by Egypt is truly momentous and requires a well-calculated set of policies rather than slogans.

It is hoped that Friday’s celebratory atmosphere will fade away, as officials roll up their sleeves and get down to the business of seeing that a country of 80 million people experience a better future. They will have to do the hard work of politics: making compromises, engaging in smart planning and communicating to the public the exact amount of hardship – and benefits – that they can expect in the future.

Otherwise, the Egyptian revolution will have achieved very little.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 30, 2012, on page 7.




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