On 4 March 2014, Constitutional Transitions sponsored a panel discussion entitled “Egypt: What Does the Future Hold?” Panelists included Zaid Al-Ali (Senior Adviser on Constitution Building, International IDEA), Mohammad Fadel (Associate Professor, Canada Research Chair for the Law and Economics of Islamic Law, University of Toronto Faculty Law), Michael Hanna (Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation), and Sarah Whitson (Executive Director, Middle East and North Africa Division, Human Rights Watch). The panel was moderated by Constitutional Transitions Director Sujit Choudhry.
The discussion began with panelists’ respective views on the most intractable challenges plaguing Egypt, now headed by the country’s armed forces chief Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. Among the most concerning elements of the widespread violence and repression conducted by the military-led government includes the expansion of this repression beyond the Muslim Brotherhood to secular opponents, including academics and journalists. Fadel explained that while the newest government is not a return to the Mubarak regime, it is a clear attempt at a new authoritarianism. Egypt’s most serious challenge lies in the structural problems that gave rise to the revolution.
The conversation also addressed Egypt’s “readiness” for political transition. Hanna noted that the “window for transformational change” was around March of 2011, right as the revolution was commencing. Comparisons were drawn to the transitional process in Tunisia, which witnessed a markedly different outcome in its political transformation. Al-Ali explained that while Tunisia was also unprepared for political transition, Tunisia’s military was not politicized, and its transitional roadmap contained a dimension of flexibility which was absent in Egypt.
The discussion then opened to the audience, who asked questions about the role of American foreign policy in Egypt’s future, and the country’s dire economic health. Egypt’s economy is currently being propped up by billions in aid from the Gulf region. The panel also discussed the difficulty of measuring public opinion in the wake of severe restrictions on outlets for opposition. In concluding remarks, the event highlighted the need for a dialogue on how Egyptians’ individual rights should be protected, a need for more ideas about governance in Egypt, and the questions that remain about the current government’s ability and willingness to reform.
Watch the video of the event here.