Zakaria: The greatest threat facing Egypt
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April 11th, 2012
10:29 PM ET

Zakaria: The greatest threat facing Egypt

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

Egypt is in the news these days because of the nomination of two new candidates for president - one from the Muslim Brotherhood, Khairat al-Shater, and the other from the more radical Salafi movement, Hazem Salah Abu Ismail.

Many Egypt watchers are understandably concerned. There have been attacks on Christians, Western aid workers and women. So where is Egypt headed? Is democracy in Egypt being captured by highly illiberal forces? Can tolerance and pluralism win out?

We should continue to monitor the situation very closely, but as of right now, we should not panic.  Al-Shater and Abu Ismail both insist that they are fully committed to democracy and to the rights of minorities.

Yes, they have very reactionary social views, but such views are allowed within democratic systems. There are plenty of parties in the West with arguably reactionary or illiberal views. Nevertheless, these parties run and, in some places, win elections. For example, ultra-right-wing, nationalist parties have won elections in countries across northern Europe.

So even though these two Egyptian candidates are advocating some polices that we might disagree with vehemently, we must remember that they are entirely within their rights to do so. Democracy does not guarantee that you will have the policy outcomes that you always like. It is about the integrity of the process.

That said, I do worry about Egypt - however, I worry about Egypt for a different reason. I think the principal problem facing the country is its military. Egypt's military is clearly deeply reluctant to cede power. It is trying to game the process in such a way that its interests are preserved. It wants to maintain its very large role in the economy.

The military benefits when secular, liberal and moderate political parties are disempowered - when people feel they need to choose between the military apparatus on the one hand or Islamic political parties on the other. That’s a choice the military wants to force Egyptians to confront and that’s the central tension in Egypt right now.

Through all this tumult, we need to remember that there have been pretty tough dictatorships in these countries since the 1950s that shut down all political and economic pluralism. What you’re seeing now is an opening of a Pandora’s box. Many long-suppressed forces are coming out in striking ways.

We don’t know how these societies will evolve over time as they open up and deal with liberty and democracy. We need to have some patience before we brand places like Egypt failures. We need to wait before branding the "Arab Spring" an "Arab Winter".

Egypt is currently a military dictatorship ruled by a junta, under martial law, with a great deal of abuse of governmental power. We see humiliation of women, the locking up of opposition parties and the persecution of journalists who write critical commentaries. All that is still happening. That - not two Muslim presidential candidates - represent the real challenge facing Egypt.

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Topics: Egypt • From Fareed • Islam

soundoff (139 Responses)
  1. Save the world

    The greatest threat to Egypt and the world is SLAM!

    April 15, 2012 at 9:08 am | Reply
  2. King


    April 15, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Reply
  3. JB

    Give me a break. The only reason that you consider the Egyptian military a threat is that you're DYING for the Muslim Brotherhood to take over the entire middle east. Look at Turkey; the army kept Turkey from turning Islamic for decades, and it's the same situation in Egypt.

    April 15, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  4. Mike

    Zakaria writes that "there are plenty of parties in the West with arguably reactionary or illiberal views." This is deceptive. There is NO modern Western equivalen, not even close, to Muslim fundamentalist political systems.

    April 15, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Reply
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    September 16, 2012 at 11:10 pm | Reply
  6. John Hanna

    Thank you farid for this article , even it is Old but we all found out that you can not trust the wolf to feed the lambs ,,Morsi is gone forever .. Now you can see the Good Lambs and good shephereds in the scene , Could someone conduct this to our presidential and senate cabinets .. or we will continue to be blind and ignorant of the truth.... AMERICA WILL LOSE THE GOOD EGYPION PEOPLE FOREVER I AM AFRAID

    August 18, 2013 at 6:25 pm | Reply
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