CUMALİ ÖNAL

Critical months for Egypt

Egypt has successfully held the first round of its historic presidential elections. »»

Egypt has successfully held the first round of its historic presidential elections. Now all eyes are on the second round. With the election of its new president, Egypt will have overcome one of the most challenging obstacles in its transition to democracy.

For decades, Egypt had lived in a state of coma. The era of “single men” ensured that the epoch of kings did not allow democracy to flourish in the country. Because of wars with Israel and misguided economic policies, the welfare of the people declined, and a country that was once regarded as the most developed in the Middle East became an ordinary economy in the region.

With the fall of Hosni Mubarak, the era of single men ended. Yet, a patient who has just recovered from a coma is considered to be in a critical period. Likewise, the first months with the new president in office will be a time of convalescence for Egypt. Even the slightest error the new leader will make may send people longing for the days of Mubarak.

As noted by almost every Egyptian who cast their vote at the ballot box, the country has two urgent problems: economy and security. Both are considered to be sine qua non.

The country will need years to recover from economic stagnation. Still, some reforms may be implemented to put the economy back on track.

Here, it must be noted that Turkey’s tremendous economic success, in addition to its active foreign policy, has played a huge role in the country’s prominence in the international arena. Indeed, it is competing with China, which is considered the most rapidly developing country of recent years. Those who visit Turkey at regular intervals can easily see the signs of the country’s rapid growth.

It must be further noted that Turkey is making these developmental strides at the expense of more than $60 billion it pays for oil and natural gas imports every year.

Egypt has everything to make similar progress. Moreover, Egypt will not have to pay heavily for oil and natural gas imports, and it has well-educated people inside and outside who can drive its growth. All it has to do is find a way to utilize these human resources in the best way possible.

Achievements in the economic field will help to lower the political tension, and soon will emerge signs of recovery.

A country where the overwhelming majority of young people are unemployed and monthly salaries average $200 is open to instability. An important consequence is the security problem, which seems to have emerged out of nowhere. Crime rates are rapidly increasing across the country. In the past, a woman could take a taxi alone at 2:00 a.m., but today even a man fears to go out in the evening.

However, given the fact that Egypt was once the Middle East’s strongest police state, we can expect security reforms to put an end to security-related problems in a short time.

Another sensitive issue is diplomacy. Several dangers in the diplomatic field await Egypt -- mainly related to the country’s relations with Israel and the issue of the Nile. Egypt needs to find solutions to these issues without increasing the social tension in the country.

The election of the new president will at the same time mean the start of a race against time in the country. The country cannot withstand any political tension during this time. If people flock to Tahrir Square, this will create another deadlock across the country.

Any wrong move the new president makes may set the country back several years. Positive steps will certainly accelerate the passage of the transition period.

The most salient feature of the president is to be “everyone’s president.” If he acts as representative of only one group and if he offends other groups, this will further deepen existing social fault lines.

In conclusion, making positive steps and giving a strong performance in the coming months, the new president may turn Egypt into a successful country like Turkey.

2012-05-27

Columnists

Columnist:: CUMALİ ÖNAL