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Egypt must avoid relapse

By Cody Shilling     2/17/11 6:00pm

It is a good day when autocrats who have been in power for over 30 years step down, and all signs point towards democratization and an improvement in a country's political system. That is exactly what happened in Egypt when former-President Hosni Mubarak resigned his position last week and the new leadership of the government of Egypt - the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces - even dissolved the old parliament which came to power in an election no one considers legitimate, and all signs seem to show that the military's top leadership is willing to allow - and accept - the results of a fair, legitimate election either late this year or early next. For those worrying about whether the transition will lead to a change in the stability of the country, the truth is not much would change for the worse. The military has said Egypt will "remain committed to all its regional and international treaties" - an implicit reference to their peace treaty with Israel. And with a new, democratically elected leadership, the country's policy makers shall be accountable to the people; no longer will there be the perception that the government is just an American pawn that is against its own people. This new trust in, and connection to, the government will lead to a greater long term stability (even if the U.S. can't simply send aid in return for a certain policy) both in Egypt and in the region as a whole.

Besides the benefits of increased transparency and connection to the new Egyptian government, a representative and responsible Egypt will provide an example to the rest of the Middle East. People who live in countries ruled by dictators and fraudulently elected "presidents" will see that democracy is not in conflict with Islam: only with authoritarian rulers. They will see that change is possible in their own countries; a month ago, there was no sign of unrest and Mubarak's position of power did not seem in question, and yet here we are. What if the people of Saudi Arabia were to demand a popular government? What if the Syrians demand more representation in the government of Bashar al-Assad who "won" 97 percent of the votes in an election in 2007? Or what might the Iranian people do, so recently after last year's attempted demonstrations? A true democracy is not created when the U.S. invades and forces a change in government; a truly democratic society requires the people to change the way their government works, which is exactly what we have in Egypt. That is why this will be such a powerful message for the entire Middle East as well as the rest of the world.

But we must be careful. We cannot let this opportunity escape us and allow another iron-fisted ruler to seize power. After the fall of the U.S.S.R., autocratic rulers still held power in some of the former Soviet republics, sometimes even after democratic elections (think Ukraine, Kazakhstan, or even Russia). It is vital that while the growth of democracy be encouraged, fostered and even actively supported, we must take care not to let a populist frenzy seize control of the momentum away from a controlled, deliberative process and have a wildly popular (at first) leader erase the progress that has been made so far. Democracy can be a fragile thing in its early years, and we must take care to ensure that the volatility of the transition does not rob Egyptians of the better future so close at hand.

Cody Shilling is a Will Rice College sophomore.

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