Monday, December 12, 2011

Thoughts on the future of Egypt

After the results were revealed of this first round of elections in Egypt's new political system, we begin to envision what to government may eventually look like in the future. The fact that Islamists and conservative factions rose to power in the wake of the overthrow of Mubarak is no surprise considering the reaction of the Egyptian people to the Mubarak regime. After the government under Mubarak fell, the Egyptian public and domestic politicians reacted by a huge show of support to any party or candidate that displayed anti-Mubarak views. The Muslim Brotherhood remained an adamant opponent during the Mubarak regime (and were banned by Mubarak to exist as a political party), but still maintained a strong cohesive group despite their expulsion from the Egyptian government. The Brotherhood positioned themselves during the Tahrir protests to sweep in after the fall of Mubarak with a message of strong Egyptian nationalism backed by rule of law dictated through Shariah. They formed the Freedom and Justice party which as we all know now, has won a plurality in the initial parliamentary elections and are expected to maintain that plurality in future parliamentary elections. The Brotherhood have realized their potential influence on the new government of Egypt and have pushed a more moderate Islamist view since the inception of the Freedom and Justice Party. The party has pushed a message of heavy reliance on tourism to boost the struggling economy. In order to regain (or even surpass) levels of tourism to that of the Mubarak era, the Brotherhood must take moderate stances on laws which may be prohibited by Shariah (ex. alcohol use, western dress, male and female public space, music, media, etc.). More moderate stances in these areas will attract western tourists who made up a large proportion of tourists to Egypt in the past. The party has also made a push for inclusion of the Coptic population in parliamentary politics and increasing the roles for women in the party. Not all Islamist movements rising from the recent elections are softening their stance as the Brotherhood has done.
The more radical and ultraconservative parties are winning large proportions of the seats in parliament as well. Some of these groups like the Al-Nour party (pictured left) are pushing for a strict adherence to Shariah dogma and a purge of all western or "modern" influences. Much of the hardcore Islamist support comes from rural voters and so far, the Islamists in general have sealed up 2/3 of the seats up for grabs in the primary elections. The question remains, how will the rise of Islamism affect the future of Egypt?
One main way that the Islamism will affect Egypt's economy will be through tourism. The extent of the implementation of Shariah and the amount of money gained from tourism will be negatively correlated in the coming years. In other words, the more extreme the Islamic rule, the less inclined westerners will be to travel to Egypt. Limitations on western dress and alcohol will be hard to swallow for many travelers and may be a deciding factor to prevent them from visiting the country. Under Mubarak, tourism made up 10-15% of the nation's GDP and if these numbers fall drastically, then the Egyptians will feel the further deterioration of the country's economy.
Other factors will also hinder growth in the economy. For all Mubarak's faults, he was pushing initiatives that were making improvement to the damaged Egyptian economy. These include rising tourism rates, tax reform, reviving public enterprise, and legislation that was improving private-sector growth. GDP in Egypt was growing around 5-7% annually for the last 7 years despite the global economic crisis. Sadly, most of the positive economic initiatives with Mubarak's signature will end up being for domestic political reasons. Anything tied to Mubarak in the new government will eventually be met with contention to the ruling Islamist majority.
It will be interesting to see the Egyptian people's reaction to how the Islamist's handle the new government. If the economy suffers then another season of revolts may be in store. Also, restrictions on personal liberties may be a strong point of contention from the youth of Egypt. The young people of Egypt enjoy the movies of America, the clothes of Europe and music of the West. It will be difficult to ask them to give up these luxuries, especially in urban areas like Cairo and Alexandria. It was the youth of Egypt that ignited the revolts that brought down Mubarak. They now understand the power of protest and if pushed, they may occupy Tahrir square once again.

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