Editor’s note: Blair Glencorse is an expert on governance and development. He was selected as a UN Alliance of Civilizations Fellow for the Middle-East and North Africa in 2011 and recently returned from Egypt. You can follow him on Twitter
By Blair Glencorse – Special to CNN
Violence is erupting in Egypt again because the army has not relinquished the political and economic power it held under Mubarak, and is refusing to do so. Current clashes also stem from a deeper general mismanagement of the transition by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which has included widespread use of military tribunals, imposition of emergency law, censorship of the media, imprisonment of civil society activists, crackdowns on religious minorities and poor organization of the upcoming elections. All of this has created an environment of uncertainty, distrust and fear.
If we take a step back, on a more fundamental level, the issue is at heart about who gets to set the rules of the game by which the country will be governed. A creative solution to this dilemma could produce stability and security, while failure to reach consensus on these rules will only lead to a vicious circle of instability and insecurity. When the smoke clears, how can Egyptians move from the current violent impasse to a more viable and cooperative future? Four broad ideas might provide the rules of a game that all Egyptians would be willing to play:
1) Create a National Unity Government. The electoral process as laid out in Egypt is ill planned, too complicated, and ineffective. The aim is a legitimate government, but in the current climate elections will produce precisely the opposite. Transfer of power to a civilian and somewhat representative unity government is a far more effective means by which to reduce violence and lay the basis for constructive politics moving forward. This requires strong leadership, of course - and may meet resistance from a variety of groups, including the Muslim Brotherhood - but it is an idea that is increasingly feasible as it gains currency among a number of important Egyptian political forces and leading intellectuals.
2) Make the Constitution Stick. The elections are seen by Egyptians to be important because the winners will have most influence in drafting a new constitution - and therefore the rules - of the new country. But the formal constitution will have to fit on top of an informal set of agreements, relationships and dynamics among the Egyptian people or it will not take hold. The real work, therefore, is not winning elections or writing a new constitution, but building a collective understanding of the role the state should play and of the rights and obligations of citizens towards their government. Despite their heavy-handedness, the army needs to play a role in this, because in the long run it is also the best way for them to support their own interests before it is too late.
3) Focus on the Local. From the outside, Egyptian politics seems zero-sum and dysfunctional. At the local level, however, there are structures and programs in place that could be used to support progress. Some governorates are working with civil society groups to identify areas of consensus that can be built upon, rather than focusing on issues of contention that undermine progress. Local Popular Councils (LPCs) - put in place under the Mubarak regime - will need to be empowered, but also provide the basis for consultation and community development. Even as problems continue at the national level, the key is for Egyptians to use existing tools for discussion of common interests and to collectively share credit for progress where it can be made.
4) Address Daily Problems. In the short-term, Egypt’s people are also deeply worried about individual concerns like food security and employment. Regardless of the shape of the new Egyptian state, if these problems are not addressed, discontent will continue. It is critical, therefore, that a sense of economic progress is created to relieve pressure, build opportunity and generate a feeling of dignity among the population. A start would be efforts to put in place more targeted and effective subsidy and conditional-cash transfer programs for the most needy; co-optation of patronage networks through the provision of programs for legitimate wealth creation; and external support for businesses, which are committed to the expansion of legal activities.
The Egyptian people are hugely resourceful, determined and resilient. They are indicating clearly that they will not settle for a cosmetic revolution, but will only allow for a fundamental renegotiation of the rules of the game. The key is ensuring that this process leads towards peace rather than continued violence, and sustainability through real consensus rather than short-term compromise.
The views expressed in this article are solely those of Blair Glencorse.