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Sisi not Egypt’s civilian Messiah

Whoever becomes Egypt’s next president must do three things, including bringing all political parties together if Egypt is to be able to rebuild its economy and political institutions.
A supporter of Egypt's army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi wears an image of him around her neck as she rallies outside a police academy, where the trial of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi and members of the Muslim Brotherhood is due to take place, on the outskirts of Cairo, February 16, 2014. Mursi appeared in court on Sunday on charges of conspiring with foreign groups to commit terrorist acts in Egypt, in a further escalation of the crackdown against his Muslim Brotherhood. The image of

Recently I warned about the traps that await Egypt and the military establishment should Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi become president. Those who agreed with and those who objected to the arguments both had a common, sensible question: If not Sisi, then who? And my answer was simply, it matters not. And here is why.

Everyone knows that the next president will face a considerable amount of serious problems: a deteriorating economy, energy crises, internal and external debts, and worst of all, a population exhausted from three years of revolution with hardly any hope and looking for a savior. Some expect him to fail, some hope he will succeed and some will work to overthrow him. It is all speculation, but one fact stands clear: No one in Egypt, not even the military establishment, can take on the responsibility alone and solve all the aforementioned problems. That is why my answer was that it matters not who.

Also, unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, none of the secular powers have an organization or party strongly rooted in society all across Egypt. Any upcoming civilian figure, ergo, will not have a sufficiently developed leadership from within his own political base to take on responsibility for the whole state, from the ministries to the governorates and the whole bureaucracy. Whether the next civilian president is a liberal, a socialist or a social democrat, all are equally short of the human resources needed to run the country on their own. And thus again, who it is matters not.

The biggest challenge, though, comes from the state institutions themselves, especially the security apparatuses, and their fresh, bitter experience with a Muslim Brother head of state. They already have no trust in the next civilian president, and are in a very defensive state, on high alert. It is rather unrealistic to expect a president with close to no knowledge about these agencies — maybe not even about the number of floors in their buildings — to be able to deal with them, head them up and direct them according to his policies. Not a chance.

It is also clear that, regardless of who the next civilian president may be, the military establishment remains the strongest member of the political scene and the primary driving force behind much of what will happen next. As such, no incoming civilian president can afford but to cooperate with the establishment completely; this is the reality whether we like it or not. In matters such as foreign relations, national security and armament, it may even be the case that the military establishment and not the president will be the one to “call the shots.” Surely, it is a convoluted and unsatisfactory situation for a civil revolutionary bloc, yet it is today's reality and it must be dealt with wisely and even leveraged if possible.

The responsibility is very serious, and the factors for failure are greater than those for success. But I would argue that there is a formula in which everyone can profit, except for the Muslim Brotherhood, which has chosen not to be part of the road map. This formula, however, requires a great deal of wisdom from all parties in the political struggle.

It is in the military establishment's interest to bring Egypt to a state of stability and get the economy moving forward after being stalled for the last three years. It is also in its interest to end the bilateral conflict between itself and political Islam, and turn the rudder of the conflict in a different direction. This would end the risk of a potential Turkey-like experience, which must be present in military leaders' minds. 

In light of the global and regional conflict that Egypt is in the middle of, it would behoove the military establishment to share responsibilities, especially civilian ones, with other national entities. This would free up the military to focus on rebuilding its capacities and get its internal house in order, instead of taking on full responsibility for issues such as gas and wheat. It might then only intervene in such matters as needed, at the request of the president, or if a grave national security crisis occurred. In return for its support, the civilian president would have to listen very closely and attentively to the military establishment, and not repeat the Brotherhood's mistake, causing the armed forces' leadership to lose its trust in him.

Regardless of what the next president might do on economic and social issues, there are three tasks he must accomplish if he wants to have a chance to complete his term, and really serve the Egyptian revolution.

The first task is to invite and convince all members of the political spectrum to take responsibility along with him in running the country, including even his political rivals such as Salafist movements. He must urge everyone to engage their highest-caliber people in genuine cooperation. With the Muslim Brotherhood opting not to be part of the current political equation, and considering the current crisis, the next president will not have the luxury of alienating any other political currents; it would surely be political suicide to try to take on the responsibilities alone.

The second task will be to clean up, restructure and rehabilitate the police system and change its creed from that of protecting the regime to that of providing security for the citizens. And whether we like it or not, once again the only way to succeed in this will be to convince and pressure the military establishment and its sovereign apparatuses to cooperate in the effort. The current creed, training, and structure of the Ministry of Interior is a thorn in the side of any government and the primary reason for political and social tension. Attempts to rein it in have been insufficient and have failed three times since the beginning of the revolution. It is a difficult task, but the most important one.

The third task, and how the civilian president can serve Egypt and the revolution, is to provide the opportunity for political parties and political life as a whole to work freely without intervention from the security apparatuses' attempts to dominate and sabotage them. He must strive to curb the authorities attempting to control the political parties. Moreover, he should help those parties to develop, build their leadership and root themselves in society, creating a sound, healthy multiparty system — which has been absent — that would be the cornerstone for building real democracy. Only this real democratic system could be the base for combating extremism and for developing political leadership loyal to the society they emerge from, and not to the state.

The formula may seem like a dream, but in my view it is the most realistic one if the active political actors want to avoid colliding and crashing the Egyptian state into the wall of economic crisis, terrorism, and regional and international wills opposing our vision for the interests of Egypt. Going back to the original question of if not Sisi, then who, I say again that it matters not who. Salvation is not to be found in a civilian messiah, but rather in all political parties cooperating together, in spite of their different interests, to get out of the crisis. Otherwise collision is inevitable and it will crush everyone.

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