Yesterday, I wrote a blog post questioning the implications of the latest events in Egypt. While everything I wrote still holds true, there is reason to have at least a little hope.
Newly appointed interm president Adly Mansour named Hazem el-Beblawi, a liberal economist and former finance minister during the army-administered period after the 2011 revolution, to be the new interim prime minister. Mohamed ElBaradei, former International Atomic Energy Agency chief and opposition leader, was named vice president.
Mansour announced the basics of his plan for the country, including four and a half months to amend the country’s constitution, which was suspended when the military took power last week. Elections are expected in approximately six months. Mansour even gave a constitutional declaration limiting his power to make laws.
There’s also hope for Coptic Christians. While the current situation is still far too unstable to guarantee their safety, they seem to have a friend in el-Beblawi, who resigned from his post as finance minister when he found out that security forces killed Coptic Christians.
On the surface, that all sounds good, and it could very well turn out that way. Still, there are reasons to be concerned.
Mansour, former head of Egypt’s High Constitutional Court, was appointed by the very secular deposed president Hosni Mubarak. El-Beblawi founded the Egyptian Social Democratic Party and ElBaradei founded the Constitution Party. The two parties were in talks to merge along with three other parties in January in order to form a strong opposition bloc against Islamist parties.
The military has shut down Islamic television stations, and it is clear that the government in place is a very secular one that opposes Islamists. Will that mean that Islamists will continue to be silenced under this government? An Islamist state is not a good outcome, but neither is a government persecuting Islamists. Moderate democrats may not agree with them, but silencing them is not a smart way to build goodwill and could make a peaceful resolution to this conflict that much more difficult.
In terms of strategic implications, there are also other factors to consider. ElBaradei may be a force for democracy in Egypt, but his tenure as IAEA chief was problematic. He was weak on Iran at a crucial time when the country’s nuclear program could have been crippled, according to leaders in both the U.S. and Israel.
“I am worried about the possible appointment of ElBaradei,” former US ambassador to Washington [sic – should say “Israeli ambassador to Washington”] Itamar Rabinovich told Israel Radio on Sunday.
“For many years he was very comfortable for the Iranians, and without this softness I don’t think the Iranians would be where they are today [regarding their nuclear program]. I don’t think his intentions toward Israel will be comfortable, though this will have to be tested.”
ElBaradei was Mansour’s original choice for prime minister, but he was forced to reconsider when the hard-line Salafist al-Nour party objected. ElBaradei may not be prime minister, but it seems like he will still have plenty of power in this administration, which could have negative implications for Western interests in the region.
So, what’s next? It’s hard to say. There is plenty of good and bad to go around. All that’s clear is that Egypt will be contentious for a while, and there are countless ways this could end.