Mon, Jul 29, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Defining Egypt’s national identity is a crucial step toward its future

By Tarek Osman

The question now is whether these clashes will necessarily usher in widespread violence. Three factors suggest that they may not.

First, the unrivaled dominance of Egypt’s military, and the unlikelihood of a split in its leadership, makes any extensive violence untenable, especially given that the Egyptian state’s fight against terrorism in the 1980s and 1990s significantly weakened jihadist groups’ operational assets in the country.

Second, the powerful forces of political Islam may now be carried away by passions, wrath and a sense of victimization, but they will inevitably opt to participate in domestic politics through organized structures and processes. In a country with more than 45 million people under 35 years old, no political player with any strategic insight can afford a prolonged impasse.

Finally, despite the significant demographic and economic changes in Egypt during the last four decades, Egyptian society still retains its agrarian character, which favors conciliation and compromise.

Even in an inclusive political transition, whether in the short or medium-term, Egyptians will have to answer the vexing question which they have failed for six decades to confront: What is Egypt? One must hope that the experience of recent decades — including the tension of the last two-and-a-half years — will induce a broad range of Egyptians to seek an answer based on respect for plurality of ideas, frames of reference and traditions.

In her novel The Cairo House, Samia Serageldin remarks that, “for those whose past and present belong to different worlds, there are times that mark their passage from one to the other, a transitional limbo.”

Egypt today is in such a transitional limbo. May its future be a different world from its recent past.

Tarek Osman is the author of Egypt on the Brink.

Copyright: Project Syndicate

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