Egypt poised to become region's model of democracy

Dina Ezzat , Tuesday 22 Mar 2011

As foreign officials keep coming to Cairo the question remains the same: how to help Egypt become a model of democracy

Egyptian protesters hold words which read
Egyptian protesters hold words which read 'Egypt: democracy and freedom to the people' in Arabic as they protest in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, Egypt, Sunday, Feb. 13, 2011. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

The expected visit of the Luis Ocampo, the prosecutor general of the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Wednesday will be groundbreaking.

It will be the first visit of its kind in Egypt, which had previously shrugged off the ICC upon the direct orders of toppled President Hosni Mubarak.

During his talks in Cairo with Nabil El-Arabi, foreign minister, and Amr Moussa, secretary general of the Arab League, Ocampo will address the situation in Libya, as the ICC continues its investigation of war crimes allegedly committed by Libyan ruler, Muammar Gaddafi against his own people in order to quell a movement to oust his regime.

The ICC prosecutor general will also examine Egypt and possibly other Arab states with an eye on encouraging a wider subscription of Arab countries to his court.

An ICC source speaking to Ahram Online from The Hague headquarters said that there is a sense that the democratisation process currently underway in the Arab world could prompt a new eagerness on the side of Arab capitals to join the ICC mechanism. So far only Jordan, Mauritania and Comoros have joined the ICC.

Considering Egypt is proven an influential bellwether in the MENA region, the ICC is particularly keen to gain Cairo’s interest so as to set a model for other Arab countries to follow.

Indeed, many other foreign officials have been and will continue to visit Egypt with the same hopes, in a post 25 January Revolution setting.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and US Democratic Senator John Kerry all told their interlocutors during the Sunday and Monday meetings as well as the press that they wish to see Egypt as a model for a peaceful democratisation process.

The same sentiment resonates among the Western diplomats, who watch in the background. The diplomats, based in Cairo, or those joining the delegations of foreign visitors, speak carefully of a fear, which is not very conspicuous – at least not yet, of the Islamisation of Egypt.

Should this happen, they say, it would be a defeat to the call of democratisation around the Arab world. Clearly, neither the West nor Israel are willing to put up with a radicalised Arab world.

"What we hope to see is a truly flourishing democracy that, of course, would accommodate all sorts of political trends, including the Muslim Brotherhood," said one Cairo-based Western diplomat. He added that the accommodation of Islamist trends should not at all bring about the exclusion of any other political trends or, for that matter, minorities.

"It would be very interesting to see how the new regime in Egypt would deal – not only with the Copts but also with say Baheeis," said another Cairo-based Western diplomat.

Baheeis are limited off-Islam minority in Egypt that had not been recognised by any previous Egyptian president, including ousted Hosni Mubarak, nor his regime.

Meanwhile, the Western visitors have been offering assistance – economic and otherwise.

The UN and the EU are offering, specifically, their expertise in running clean and fair elections and in re-writing the constitution.

Assistance to restructure parts of the government, especially the ministries of interior and justice, are also being offered.

"We are willing to do whatever we can, but it would be up to the Egyptians to decide what they want and to tell us what they would like us to do," according to a visiting European diplomat.

While many Western capitals and international organisations are inclined to believe that the likelihood of abuse of foreign assistance money is quite limited, they still seem to be more interested in offering assistance in terms of programmes, scholarships and training.

"But we are also expecting considerable financial assistance packages. We are currently negotiating the details of several packages," said an Egyptian diplomat.

According to a UN source, if Egypt could become a truly democratic state it would be better positioned to promote regional stability and peace – provided that it does not fall prey to fundamentalism.

The recent results of the constitutional referendum that approved the few amendments, at the behest of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists, made many Western capitals apprehensive as to how the situation would ultimately evolve in Egypt.

A sweeping 77 per cent majority voted yes for the proposed amendments that were favoured by the moderate and radical Islamic groups alike on Saturday.

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