November 25th, 2011
06:06 PM ET

Glencorse: Setting the rules of the game in Egypt

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.

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Topics: Egypt

soundoff (29 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    1) The idea of a national unity government is only feasible, if Egypt has a strong and broad middle class.

    November 26, 2011 at 6:56 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      In the old days some rural areas, like the Sinai were neglected by the government in Cario. The locals do what they want.

      November 26, 2011 at 7:04 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Egpyt's economy is run by branches of the military and a handful of families. Social injustices have to be addresssed.

      November 26, 2011 at 7:05 am | Reply
  2. Lynn Sheppard

    Competent analysis of the issues Egypt is facing – as are many other North African countries (although their way of or ability to deal with them may be different). And it's encouraging to see so many Egyptians holding out for fundamental, rather than cosmetic, reforms.

    November 26, 2011 at 11:53 am | Reply
  3. Karur

    The truth of the matter is that, after decades of towing the line prescribed by the West,the Muslim World wants to evolve its own model. Whether we call it the Turkish model or not, what Turkey has helped to create in Western minds is the image of a religious Muslim State but still open to non-muslim people and ideas. Therefore, Obama has carefully nurtured the Arab spring because there is a genuine confidence in Washington that the Muslim Brotherhood could infact form a moderate Government in Egypt. This would have a huge impact on other parts of the Arab world. There is a maturing of relationship between the Muslim World and the rest that is comforting. Thank God, we do not have a demagogue in Washington now!

    November 28, 2011 at 7:29 pm | Reply
  4. Alexis

    Hi people of America and of the world, FORBSE newspapers is ugly and cheating. I wanted to do some kind of bussiness of theirs book magazine,and it is impossible -it was written easy steps, and that it is easy.

    November 29, 2011 at 6:07 am | Reply
  5. Alexis

    Hi people of America and of the world, still FORBSE newspapers are ugly and cheating, I brought book magazine to do bussiness, and it was impossible to do it, because it was written complicated. I think it could read specialist of this things, not normal people. Perhaps they do it specially ,- starting bussiness by people more difficult. Is it name for it?

    November 29, 2011 at 7:44 am | Reply
  6. TowelHeadsAreMorons

    5) Get rid of ISLAME. Nothing will get better with ISLAME in the way.

    November 29, 2011 at 10:51 am | Reply
    • chris

      Spell it right before you decide to abolish it.

      November 29, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Reply
      • Sean

        Did you hear that? Right over your head.

        November 29, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  7. Eyad tawakol

    Why do Americans feel the need to also weigh in or interfere in our country's affairs?? Unlike americans we don't want everything in our country to be politically correct, we don't want all the laws and restrictions you guys have in your countries. You claim to be a free country but that's not true, you have more incarcerated people in the U.S than any other country in the world, more rules and laws than any other country in the world, the average american in sinking in credit card debt and the list goes on. Stay out of our country's affairs because your opinion is irrelevant and is not welcomed by the majority of Egyptians, we can solve our problems on our own, we NEVER asked for any one else's opinion or help. WE CAN HANDLE OUR OWN. How would you feel if i walked in your home and told you how to run your OWN household?? you won't really like it much, will you? well, this is what you guys do, you walk into people's countryies and tell them how you think they should run it. and this is not acceptable and this is why there is a huge wedge between the U.S and lots of middle eastern countries, you need to learn to mind your own business and know that things don't always have to be politically correct and just because you think something is right doesn't make it right for other nations and visa versa.

    November 29, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Reply
    • HDrider

      You say that but yet Egypt keeps taking our money. Oh I get it you don't want us to interfere except with out tax dollars.

      November 29, 2011 at 4:54 pm | Reply
      • Rania

        Go To Hell with your damn money. This money only goes to buy the weapons for the military from your damn defence companies. SO you say you give us this 1.7 Billion but you say we have to spend it buying arms from your country. I hope the first thing the new government in Egypt do is to cancel this US aide, the common Egyptian doesn't gain anything from it except having your government nose in it's business.

        November 30, 2011 at 10:03 am |
      • lt_murgen

        Actually, Rania, a good portion of that money is really cost-reductions to buy wheat from U.S. farmers. Our government artifically lowers the price Egyptians pay for the wheat they buy from the U.S.

        Cutting off all U.S. aid will cause food prices to climb drastically. That most certainly will affect the common person. Oh- the same goes for several other consumer goods as well, such as heating oil and cotton. So energy and clothing prices would rise as well.

        November 30, 2011 at 10:59 am |
      • heltay

        i encourge you to ask the congress to stop sending this money to egypt, it only goes to the thieves in the government which the united states supported for its best intrest. it also goes to american contractors to do bussiness in please ask your gov to stop sending this money, if it means we will not be controleed by someone else please take it,all yours

        November 30, 2011 at 12:05 pm |
    • lt_murgen

      Americans tend to feel a certain sense of privledge when it comes to other countries internal affairs. It is the price Egyptians pay for their government taking over 1.7 Billion dollars in economic and military aid [Fiscal year 2009, as reported by USAID].

      That doesn't include the private charities that do work in Egypt. Nor the income generated by tourism from other countries .

      If you want other countries out of your business, stop taking their money. If you want to do business with them, and to have them come visit, then you must expect their meddling in your affairs.

      And don't claim that the US should expect the same. We do. We see it every day. Other countries are constantly meddling in our internal affairs at the state and national level- playing one state against another for tax breaks and special treatment for business; requiring more openings at universities for students from a specific country; hiring lawyers to push for changes to allow sharia law-style treatment of women and calling it 'cultural sensitivity'; and so on.

      November 30, 2011 at 8:15 am | Reply
    • rick

      is that why you ask the US for 3,000,000,000 plus a year?

      November 30, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Reply
  8. palintwit

    Not to worry everybody. Sarah Palin just boarded a plane for Cairo, Alabama and she'e going to straighten this whole mess out.

    November 29, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Reply
  9. Zohar

    'Vote Pyramid Down'
    Graphic Commentary on Egyptian Elections

    November 29, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  10. WFWP

    Egypt is displaying to the World why Democracy is not a universal value. Indeed Democracy will not be able to fully take root in Egypt as the culture and society there are not conducive to the very nature of democracy. Western democracy has flourished due to our past of individuality and Judeo-Christian values. Islamic nations like Egypt do not share anything resembling this, as they hail from a history of subordination to authority. While the people scream in the streets for democracy, the very foundation of the society in Egypt will never support democracy as we think of the term.

    November 29, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Reply
    • Sean

      Well you are half right. Democracy has flourish because our sense of individual freedom, in spite of Judeo-Christian values. This isn’t an opinion but a verifiable fact. Do a little reading on the Christian right and the laws they are trying to pass. They restrict individual freedom and group rights. Separation of church and state is key to a democracy.

      November 29, 2011 at 5:14 pm | Reply
      • WFWP

        Sean, Judeo-Christian values have proven indespensable in creating democracies. You are focusing on the actions of specific Judeo-Christians, which is not at all what I am referring to. Judaism and Christianity promote equality and justice, virtue and self-responsibility; these values are vital to the success of a democracy. These values become engrained in the fabric of a society, just as the ideas of Confucianism or Islam have become the basis of society in the Middle East and Asia. Simply because a few Christians promote a law which you believe inhibits freedom, does not mean that Judeo-Christian values seek to inhibit people's choice, indeed it does quite the opposite by encouraging self-responsibility.

        November 30, 2011 at 7:48 am |
    • Vicky

      One more qsoetiun – ... One more qsoetiun - forgive me if it's already been answered in the string below... Does the Alive Air purifier produce even small amounts of ozone? I'm not clear on this.

      February 12, 2012 at 1:25 am | Reply
  11. Anniken

    This is Egypt's democracy, not ours. The region is changing and the West has no choice but to accept it. The sooner we step back and stop meddling, the better. This may be the century of Pax Turkana, if recent events are an indication.

    November 30, 2011 at 11:08 am | Reply
    • rick

      is meddling giving money?

      November 30, 2011 at 1:12 pm | Reply
  12. mud

    I know...let the Egyptians worry about themselves and the rest of the world mind their own business huh...

    November 30, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Reply
  13. hilo, HI


    -or they do not stand a chance no matter who is in charge.

    November 30, 2011 at 4:05 pm | Reply
    • Naveen

      xTimeCheer65 on November 7, 2011 My ftoarive food has to be crab and lobster! i love it! Haha.Thanks for this giveawayy!!good luck everyone!

      February 10, 2012 at 2:48 pm | Reply
  14. George

    And the 5th way to get Egypt "on track": build them some trains.

    November 30, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Reply

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