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Three possible scenarios for future of Egypt

As the Egyptian political crisis grows more violent and uncertain, analysts have begun to turn to historical parallels for answers.

world Updated: Feb 05, 2011 01:30 IST

As the Egyptian political crisis grows more violent and uncertain, analysts have begun to turn to historical parallels for answers. Will an Islamist movement or a new strongman - or both - emerge to seize control, in an eerie repeat of the 1979 Iranian revolution? Or will Egypt's secular tradition and powerful military allow for a messy transition to democracy, as happened in Indonesia in 1998?

Even in the age of Twitter, the final result will probably not be known for weeks. It took four months for the shah of Iran to leave after the shooting of demonstrators led to popular outrage. In Egypt, no real move to democracy can be assured until several changes in law and the constitution are enacted. The next presidential election is now scheduled for September, but a careful process of reform would be needed to ensure a transition to democracy.

Among the key changes required: altering Article 76 of the constitution, which imposes onerous requirements that effectively prevent any opposition candidate from running for the presidency; lifting the emergency law that empowers the security services to detain without charge anyone deemed a threat to the state; reinstating judicial supervision of elections, including the presence of judges at every polling station, and making sure the machinery of the state (such as television) is in the hands of more neutral people than the ruling party.

Those reforms, of course, would not ensure a result that is beneficial to U.S. interests. Drawing from history, here are the three possible scenarios most discussed by analysts.

Iran's Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, like Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak today, was an anchor of U.S. power in the Middle East who maintained relations with Israel. He was socially progressive, with a largely secular approach. But when he was ousted in a popular revolution, a theocratic clique led by the long-exiled Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power and smothered a movement originally led by students and moderates.

The parallel is imperfect - there is no Egyptian spiritual or religious leader living in Paris awaiting a triumphant return to Cairo - but some experts are concerned about the possibility of an Egyptian Islamist movement grabbing the reins of the uprising.

The Muslim Brotherhood has long been an illegal but semi-tolerated force in Egyptian politics.
(In Exclusive Partnership with The Washington Post)