Egypt’s moves toward greater democracy are encouraging — provided the country’s military does not hijack them.
The nation of 85 million people is of strategic importance. It is at the hinge of the Middle East and Africa, and links the Mediterranean and Red seas at the Suez Canal. Sharing borders with Israel and the Gaza Strip, Egypt also plays a pivotal role in the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
An elected, democratic government to manage Egypt’s economy will give the country a solid base that is the best guarantor of stability. Americans were slightly alarmed and then reassured as peaceful opponents of Egypt’s entrenched ruler, Hosni Mubarak, came to Cairo’s Tahrir Square and unseated him in February.
U.S. concerns over possible instability in Egypt and its military’s pledges to move forward with democratization eased doubts about the imposition of military rule and the dispersal of peaceful demonstrators. Now there is reason to wonder.
Egypt has been led by military officers for 57 years. The military is well entrenched and has accumulated substantial economic holdings over the years. Whether Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, has presidential ambitions is unknown.
The military government has postponed legislative elections planned for June until September, and presidential elections from September until an unknown date. Egypt’s political parties acquiesced initially in the postponements, saying they would provide time to prepare for the elections.
Now, skeptical demonstrators are back in Tahrir Square and the military is jailing some critics. President Obama must make clear to Egypt’s caretaker government that democratization must continue to move forward if U.S. aid is to continue to flow.