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A year ago, protestors in Cairo’s Tahrir Square sparked the revolution that toppled the Mubarak regime. Egypt’s first freely elected Parliament in more than 60 years held its first session Monday. Diane and her guests discuss the challenges ahead for Egypt and its relationships with other countries in the region and the U.S.
Last January, activists in Egypt launched an uprising in Tahrir Square. Demands for political reform led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. A newly-elected parliament held its inaugural session about one year later. Diane and guests examine the transition taking place in Egypt now.
What Has Changed Since Mubarak Stepped Down?
The biggest change, Taylor said, is that the people of Egypt now have a voice. “The people’s voices not only in elections, but also on the street, are now being heard around the world,” he said. Some things, however, haven’t changed. The military played a large role under Mubarak, as it does now. The newly-elected parliament now has real power, and it must organize itself so it can efficiently legislate, Taylor said.
U.S.-Egypt Relations: Our Priorities
“Our priorities are to see and support a transition to a democratic government,” Taylor said. “Our relations with Egypt benefit us, the United States, and I believe they benefit the Egyptian people as well. These relationships we want to maintain,” he said. The Egyptian economy is in deep trouble, and the government is currently examining the possibility of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to help alleviate some of its immediate problems, Taylor said.
What Happens If The Military Doesn’t Cede Power?
The people have expressed themselves well, and Taylor expects that they will demand the military cede power. The military has made it clear that it intends to turn power over to the civilian government by next July, when a new president will have been elected under a new constitution. “I believe them when they say they do not like governing,” Taylor. They are not eager to cling to power,” Taylor said of the military leadership.
Another View Of The Military’s Intentions
Samer Shehata is not as convinced that the military will cede power so easily. “The military has made comments and done things that really lead many of us to question their desire to midwife a democratic transition, which is what they promised, or their willingness to cede power,” Shehata said. “They have interests. They have interests that they want to maintain.”
You can read the full transcript here.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. Last January, activists in Egypt launched an uprising in Tahrir Square. Demands for political reform led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. A newly-elected parliament held its inaugural session yesterday.
MS. DIANE REHMJoining me to examine the transition taking place in Egypt, Robin Wright, joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center, and Samer Shehata, he's assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. You can join us as well call us on 800-433-8850. Send us your email to firstname.lastname@example.org Join us on Facebook or Twitter. Good morning to you.
MS. ROBIN WRIGHTGood morning.
MR. SAMER SHEHATAGood morning.
REHMGood to have you both with me. Joining us from Brussels, Ambassador William Taylor, he's Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions at the U.S. Department of State. Welcome to you Mr. Ambassador.
AMBASSADOR WILLIAM TAYLORThank you, Diane.
REHMPlease talk about how much has changed in Egypt since Hosni Mubarak has stepped down.
TAYLORSure, some things have changed and some things haven't. What has clearly changed is the people of Egypt now have a voice and they have expressed themselves in what is generally agreed to be free and fair elections for a lower House of Parliament. That parliament, as you said, met yesterday for the first time. So that's clearly a change, free and fair elections are a real change.
TAYLORThe people's voices not only in elections, but also on the street are now being heard around the world. Some things, however, haven't changed. The military played a large role under Hosni Mubarak. The military is still playing a large role now that they actually are the executive power and until yesterday were the executive and the legislative power. So some things have changed and some things haven't, but on net, it's clearly a positive for the people of Egypt.
REHMNow that newly-elected parliament is dominated by Islamist politicians, what challenges does it face?
TAYLORThe parliament faces challenges that all new parliaments do. They, all of a sudden, the parliament now has real power. The party that won the most votes, that is the Freedom and Justice Party, a moderate Islamist party that is looking to form coalitions with other parties in the new parliament in order to eventually form a government.
TAYLORThe parliament will have to set the rules, set the standards, set the procedures and again organize itself in a way that allows them to perform the legislative functions in Egypt.
REHMAnd what about U.S. relations with Egypt, what are our priorities?
TAYLOROur priorities are to see and support a transition to a democratic government. We have strong interests in Egypt. Egypt is an important country for the United States and the region. It sits in an important part of the world. It has relationships with Israel. It has relationships with Europe. Our relations with Egypt benefit us, the United States, and I believe they benefit the Egyptian people as well. These relationships we want to maintain.
REHMAnd what's going on with Egypt's economy, Mr. Ambassador? How closely is the political transition tied to the economy?
TAYLORThe Egyptian economy is in deep trouble and exactly as your question points out, the ability of this government, both military and the new parliament, to steer the course of an Egyptian economy toward a more prosperous future for the people of Egypt is going to be key to the stability and the longevity of the political transitions. It is right the reserves that the government has are going down rapidly. Tourism is way down. Investors are holding off.
TAYLORThe Egyptian government, that is both the civilian government and the military government, the military leadership, are examining their relations and the possibility of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund, which we think would be very important for them to conclude.
REHMNow, the military did initially turn down that IMF loan, but now, because I gather it's running out of reserves, it's looking again in that direction?
TAYLORThat's exactly right. They turned it down last June. They have re-examined their position and they are now in serious discussions with the IMF and I am optimistic that they will conclude an agreement with the IMF within the next several weeks.
REHMAnd finally, Mr. Ambassador, if the military does not cede power in the summer, what happens then?
TAYLORI think the people of Egypt have expressed themselves very well. They expect, indeed I believe, will demand that the military cede power. That having been said, the military has told everyone who will listen, I've heard them say it, others have heard them say it as well, the Egyptian people have heard them say it. They intend to turn over power to the civilian government by next July when a new president will have been elected under a new constitution.
REHMAnd you are optimistic?
TAYLORI am. I am. I believe them when they say they do not like governing. They are not eager to cling to power. They see that managing an economy is hard work and difficult and is a lot of pressures on them on all sides. They, I think, are sincere when they say they would like to turn this back over to a civilian government.
TAYLORThey have reasons that they want to maintain influence and I imagine they are working now to work with the new parliament to try to do that. But I also believe that they will turn over power when a president is elected.
REHMAmbassador William Taylor, he's Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions at the U.S. Department of State, thank you for joining us.
TAYLORThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd turning to you now, Samer Shehata, are you as optimistic as Ambassador Taylor that the military is going to turn over power?
SHEHATANo, I'm not. I mean, the military has lost tremendous credibility among the Egyptian people and I think the international community from February 11th, the day that Mubarak was removed from office, until the present. We have seen incredible violence against civilian protestors on multiple occasions, whether it was the killing of mostly Coptic Christian protestors in front of the radio and television building on October 9th or the weeks of violence that began after a major demonstration on November 19th called the Mohamed Mahmoud Street in which over 40 people were killed.
SHEHATASubsequent violence in December as well in front of the Cabinet by peaceful protestors, the international community saw the violence directed particularly against female protestors as well. The military has made comments and done things that really lead many of us to question their desire to midwife a democratic transition which is what they promised or their willingness to cede power. They have interests. They have interests that they want to maintain.
SHEHATAAnd I think it's important for us to understand what the military is and particularly what the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces are the few, the 24 or 22. None of us know how many generals were running the country. They were all appointed by Mubarak, Minister Tantawi, the Minister of Defense has been in his post since 1991. And he hasn't been in his post since 1991 not because of performance, but because of his loyalty to Mr. Mubarak, unquestioning loyalty as also revealed in the Wikileaks documents.
SHEHATASo for them, the revolution was about the elimination of Mr. Mubarak who had become a liability by February 11th, threatened the entire system and their interests and also the end of the Gamal Mubarak inheritance project. But it was not a revolution for democracy for them or a reform of the way the police does business or anything else. So I'm much more skeptical, unfortunately, than the Ambassador about the military's intentions.
REHMAnd didn't I see something that a leaked U.S. embassy cable said officers called Tantawi Mubarak's poodle, Robin Wright?
WRIGHTWell, we are talking about a broader phenomenon here. It's not just what's happened in the past year. This is a country that has effectively been a military state since the Free Officer's Movement ousted the monarchy in 1952. All of the presidents since then have been military men. And the stakes here are not just handing over power in July, it's really a broader control, whether it's of legislation or influence on foreign policy.
WRIGHTThe fact is that the military controls up to 30 percent of the Egyptian economy in lots of different ways including vast tracks of land. It has a budget that not even parliament knew the total for and it's been a secret and the Egyptian military really wants to sustain the kind of privileges that it had in the past and power is the way to do that. So there's a widespread belief in Egypt and I've just returned, that the military will hand over on paper.
WRIGHTIt will say that constitutionally it is vesting in a new president, but at the end of the day, it wants to protect itself, including liability from the kinds of human rights violations that have taken place on a massive scale across Egypt, not just the number of dead, but the extraordinary number of people who have been injured who have lost their eyesight and paid a huge price.
REHMRobin Wright, Samer Shehata, we'll take just a short break here. You can join us, 800-433-8850. Send us your email to email@example.com.
REHMAnd welcome back. We're talking about Egypt a year after activists launched an uprising in Tahrir Square and 18 days later brought down the presidency of Hosni Mubarak. We just received an announcement from AP that Egypt's military rulers declared a partial lifting of the nation's hated emergency laws saying the Draconian Laws will remain applicable to crimes committed by thugs. And it was Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi who made this announcement, the man we were just talking about. I guess the question is, how do you define thugs, Samer?
SHEHATAWell, you certainly can't define thugs, but in the Egyptian context, of course, thugs, the word is baltagiya, have been used consistently by the Mubarak Regime as plain clothes, paid thugs, essentially, to put down protestors, to harass opposition figures. We saw this, of course, well before the revolution. This was a regular tactic employed by the regime during elections and also to limit protestors. And the idea was -- or one of the benefits of this was that the regime's fingerprints then were not on the crime of repression because it was, you know, two groups fighting each other both non-uniformed
SHEHATASo this is really not enough. Egyptians have been living under emergency law since 1981. It's been a demand for decades the lifting of the emergency law. And I don't think this is going to meet those demands.
REHMChange, yeah. Robin, you said earlier that 30 percent of Egypt's budget is controlled by the military. The question becomes how much of that are they, if any, going to hand over to the legislature itself?
WRIGHTWell, no one knows exactly what they control. The estimates go as high as 30 percent. And the secrecy of its assets is one of the big issues. The new parties that have been elected almost uniformly called for greater transparency. They want to know exactly what the military holds. They want to know separately what the budget is. And they don't want this to be a secret. They want the military to be accountable. And this is where we get back to the point that Samer made, that this is above the law, the military throughout the history of military rule.
WRIGHTAnd this is reflected -- the tensions are reflected in the fact that over 60 percent of Egypt's population is under the age of 30. And unemployment is estimated at between 25 and 33 percent among the young. And you see those who are out at Tahrir Square now, many of whom are not the idealized youth of the original uprising, but are those who are marginalized, who feel that they have been lost by Egypt. And they're taking a stand.
WRIGHTAnd those are some of the people that the regime likes to call thugs, because they're not the young, you know, whether they're university students or the liberals or others. That these are...
WRIGHT...this is, you know, something that's a real challenge to the regime in terms of the economic tensions. And this is one, I think, that's going to play out long after the handover of power. In many ways, what we're seeing today is not just the demand for political rights. Those are being addressed with the election of parliament expected to elect a president by July. But then you have to find the answers to the questions of daily life in this deteriorating economy.
SHEHATAWell, that's exactly right. I mean, you know, if you think about what the parliamentarians, those newly elected in Egypt's first elections have to deal with, it's really quite staggering. I mean, they have to deal with the population, as Robin mentioned, which is incredibly young, many of which are unemployed. The poverty rates are astounding. Twenty percent live below poverty. Another 20 percent live close to poverty. The economy has taken a downturn because of the revolution and so on.
SHEHATAAnd so people want results. They have high expectations. They want to see rising incomes and so on. And in this context it's going to be quite difficult for the parliament, whether they're Islamists or non-Islamists, to actually deliver on those expectations.
REHMYou know, it's fascinating to me that during the uprising itself, you seem to have the military and the people become one. And then the military sort of veered off in its direction beginning to attack the people themselves.
SHEHATAWell, that's what it appeared. But, I mean, if we look closely actually, even during the revolution, even during those 18 days between January the 25th and February 11th, we see that that's not exactly the case. First of all, all of us remember the battle of the camel -- the infamous battle of the camel in which camels and horses and chariots were unleashed on the protestors in Tahrir in an attempt to disperse them. The military was there. They did not stop the camels or the chariots from going in.
SHEHATAThey also, in subsequent days, didn't stop any of the thugs or the violence that was taking place against the protestors.
REHMAre you saying they didn't support the revolution at all?
SHEHATAThat's exactly what I'm saying. And in fact, there's even greater evidence of that. We will also remember that during the revolution Mr. Mubarak met on a number of occasions with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in a kind of war situation room. And there are photos of him seated next to his then newly appointed Vice-President Omar Suleiman, seated next to Mohamed Tantawi, seated next to Sami Enan, also on the Supreme Council, watching monitors and essentially planning a war strategy against the protestors.
SHEHATASo the basic point is that at some point during the uprising the military concluded that Mr. Mubarak was a liability, threatening their own interests, threatening the interests that Robin mentioned a moment ago. And they essentially threw him under the bus and also accomplished another thing, which they wanted to, getting rid of the Gamal Mubarak Inheritance Project, as well as the civilian corrupt business types that were parasitic as part of the National Democratic Party and really potentially eating onto some of their turf.
SHEHATASo that's what they wanted with the revolution. They didn't want democracy, accountability, rule of law, a citizenship rights and I think many things that the millions of people in Egypt -- human dignity, millions of people in Egypt protested for.
REHMSo, Robin, you've been there for the last ten days or so. Talk about what you heard from the people.
WRIGHTOne of the most interesting things is the whole idea of revolution. We toss this word around and in many ways, what we saw a year ago was a military coup against Hosni Mubarak reflecting their desire to get rid and ensure that a general would be his successor. And then you've seen the second phase that played out from October to December where the military or the security forces were pitted against new rounds of demonstrations.
WRIGHTThere's talk now that we're beginning a third phase of the rebellion, which may end up being the real revolution, and that is trying to dismantle the military empire in Egypt, that this is where we're really getting down to the basics, that before they got rid of one man. Today they're actually trying to dismantle the system. And that's where you get revolution. We throw these words around as if, you know, accepting the fact this was a revolution, but it wasn't, not yet. But it could well be.
REHMNow, how was the turnout for the election?
WRIGHTOh, the turnout was very good. And Jimmy Carter came for the last phase when I was there and he said, this was the freest and fairest election in, you know, the 5,000 year history of Egypt. You can't do better than that. So I think that there was strong support for it. There is something in Egypt today though called the Couch Party. And that consists of the people who like to listen to the talk shows and find out what's going on but don't participate yet. And the big concern is how this plays out, if people believe that there is credibility in the presidential election.
WRIGHTOne of the things that's going to be settled in the next six months is what kind of system Egypt has. Is it going to have an executive president as it had in the past, a strong man, or does it become one that's based on parliament? Needless to say the parties that have just won in parliament want to see either a balance of powers or a parliamentary system. And the question is will the military allow that, because it's much easier to control one man.
WRIGHTAnd there's a lot of speculation now that the military may interject its own candidate for the presidency in the next few weeks in order to maintain control over the political system. And they could even nominate people who kind of are holdovers from the Mubarak era or sympathetic to Mubarak.
REHMAll right. We've got a caller in Jacksonville, Fla. with a question. Good morning, Brian. You're on the air.
BRIANHi, good morning. Well, my question really has to do with Africa as a whole. It's my understanding that as well as Egypt's but Gadhafi also in Libya was funding -- they're about to establish Africa's own monetary fund. This is something that a lot of Africans have been looking for for quite a few many years. And all of that money that was about to go to that has now been confiscated, I believe, by perhaps maybe our government. I'm not really sure. I'm kind of wondering...
REHMGoodness. Robin, do you know anything about this? Samar?
SHEHATANo, not specifically. I mean, the general point, of course, is that it was uncovered that the Gadhafi Regime had over a hundred billion dollars dispersed around the world. We know similarly that the Mubarak Regime had significant amounts of money personally in funds in Switzerland and the Bahamas, in the Gulf and so on. The same thing with Ben Ali in Tunisia. And of course, the question of recovering the money is an ongoing one. And the Egyptians, unfortunately, have very high expectations, many of them, that that's going to solve the problem somehow, right, recovering the $70 billion that Mubarak some estimate has stolen.
SHEHATAThe reality is it's probably -- the figure's not that high. But even if it's two or three billion, it's outrageous. But certainly that's not going to solve the problems that the ambassador spoke about economically that Egypt is facing in the current period.
REHMRobin, as you look at this newly formed parliament, as the ambassador said, Islamists are holding about two-thirds of the seats. Who are they and what do they stand for?
WRIGHTWell, this is one of the most interesting phenomena in the Middle East. After all, Egypt accounts for one out of every four Arabs and it's always been the intellectual center. So whatever happens in Egypt really influences other parts of the Arab world. There are two different parties. There are actually a few more, but the two major ones are the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi's Nour Party.
WRIGHTMuslim Brotherhood dates back to 1928. It has long experience. It's gone through many phases where it was initially a social and a religious organization. In the 1950s and '60s it became involved in some violence. It's chief ideologue was a Jihadist in calling for tough action justifying violence and so forth. In the 1970s the Muslim Brotherhood renounced violence. And beginning in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s it tried to work within the political system. Even though it was legally banned, it tried to work through other parties and run candidates or running as independents.
WRIGHTAnd in Hosni Mubarak's last parliament elected in 2005, it had 88 members. So it's not at all a newcomer. It has vast social structures, clinics, schools. I went once to a planetarium that the Muslim Brotherhood ran in Cairo. In contrast with the Salafis, who adopt their ideology from Saudi Arabia, they are very rigid in what they want. They want...
WRIGHTUltra conservative. They want ultimately to impose the kind of Sharia law that involves cutting off hands and the kind of penal code that is so offensive in Western eyes. But the interesting thing about the two parties is they don't like each other at all. They are rivals. They will not cooperate in the new government in forming a single block. The Muslim Brotherhood talks about the Salafis as newcomers, inexperienced, naïve. And the Salafis talk about the Muslim Brotherhood as too moderate, you know, sellouts and so forth.
WRIGHTSo this is not -- you know, we in the West kind of look at the numbers and say almost 70 percent of parliament is going to be controlled by Salafis or by Islamists.
WRIGHTAnd whoops, you know, this is awful. When, in fact, it's almost humorous.
REHMRobin Wright and you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." As the Muslim Brotherhood moves out of the kind of charitable organizations you were talking about, Robin, and into certainly more assertive political activity, Semar, what is that going to mean for Egypt?
SHEHATAWell, there's a couple of things. I mean, the Muslim Brotherhood, of course, has been participating in elections in Egypt since 1984 under Mubarak. And now their newly formed party, The Freedom and Justice Party, is the largest single block in the parliament. The issues right now that the parliament faces and that Egyptian politics face are of course issues of economics and so on. But they're also about how to complete the revolution, this incomplete revolution, how to get the military out of power.
SHEHATAAnd of course, people have different views about this. Some are speaking and speculating about a deal being brokered between possibly the Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood and the military that would provide some guarantees for the military officers, immunity and so on, control of the military for a number of years in exchange for their leaving the political scene and so on.
SHEHATASo these really are the most pressing issues. I mean, the Brotherhood, of course, does have a political program and some economic ideas, maybe not as complete enough. But whether they get a chance to implement them in the coming period is another story.
REHMHow worried should the U.S. be about the Muslim Brotherhood, Robin?
WRIGHTWell, I think less worried about the Muslim Brotherhood than the Salafis. But the big issue that they're going to have to face, first and foremost, is writing a new constitution. And this is where the Iranian Revolution in 1979 was hijacked. It was during the fractious debates over what a new constitution should look like, how far should it go, that there were over 6,400 amendments offered. And that was the moment at which the cleric stepped in because of the infighting that eventually became deadly, and said we need to have the clerics play a role as supervisors.
WRIGHTNow there's a lot of different between Shiites and Sunnis between Iran and Egypt, enormous differences. But this period really will define not just what's in the constitution but how it's implemented. Article 2 is the key part of the constitution because under Mubarak it also said that Sharia law had to be consistent with all new legislation in Egypt. The question is, how do you do that? It's basically been kind of ignored in the past.
WRIGHTAnd one of the questions is how do the various parties in the constitution want to make sure that that's applied to new legislation. And this is where you get into these dicey areas of how Islamic is the new order going to be?
SHEHATAWell, that's correct. I mean, you know, Article 2 states that, you know, Egypt is an Islamic country. And the principles of the Islamic Sharia are the primary source of legislation. All that means is that principles of social justice and equality and so on are really what's at stake. The Salafis want to change that. They want to make the Sharia and not the principles the source of legislation.
REHMSamer Shehata. He's assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University Center for Contemporary Arab Studies. Short break and right back.
REHMAnd as we talk about the year following Egypt's revolution, let's go right to the phones to Cleveland Heights, Oh. Good morning, Norman, you're on the air.
NORMANGood morning. Very interesting topic.
NORMANI'm wondering what this will look like after, you know, when the Islamist's parties take hold. What will this do to the religious minorities that are in Egypt, the Coptic Christians, the Jews -- and there are still many Jews in Egypt and what will this do with their relations to Israel?
WRIGHTOn the issue of Israel it's really quite interesting because the Muslim Brotherhood and even to a certain degree the Salafi party have so far taken a pragmatic attitude toward Camp David. They both have said they will honor Egypt's international treaties, as of course the military has also said. The question is how much do they want to modify it? There's open talk of changes on key issues. For example, how many Egyptian troops are allowed in the Sinai? This has been an area of tension.
WRIGHTWhat about opening the border and what support for the Palestinians in Gaza? And thirdly, interestingly enough, in many cases the most important issue to many of them is the gas that Egypt sells to Israel which is pegged at about $3 a unit and on the open market it's closer to $9. And so they're talking about money, but there's also some who take kind of the ideological point of view and say, we shouldn't be selling to Israel. It actually goes to Israel and then onto Jordan, as well.
WRIGHTBut clearly there are some changes, but the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood doesn't talk about, doesn't use the language of radical groups, talking about the Zionist entity and is quite striking and the pragmatic attitude. It'll be interesting to see whether they hold to this, but for the time being because of the economic realities and because of international pressure they know they're not gonna get help, whether it's tourism and a lot of things will be influenced by what happens on the pivotal issue of Israel.
REHMAnd following up on that, here's an email from Peter in Tarrytown, N.Y. "Samer, please explain what a moderate Islamist is, how it's different from a radical Islamist. Is it more open to personal freedoms, including women's rights?"
SHEHATARight. Well, you know, this is a contentious even term, the idea of moderate Islamists, but generally we can put forward a number of criteria. We can look at the willingness to accept democracy and the institutions of democracy, elections, separation of power and so on. We could look at their positions on violence. Some Islamist groups advocate violence as a legitimate means to attain rights.
SHEHATAWe could look at questions of women's rights and personal freedoms and minority rights. And I think on all of those different criteria, we can differentiate Islamist groups. So the Brotherhood, for example, fully accepts democracy, elections, separation of power and so on. That's different than the Salafi groups, quite interestingly. They state that they believe democracy is a good means, but democracy, if it produces laws that contravene the Sharia, is no good.
SHEHATAWith regard to women's rights even, we see vast differences between the Brotherhood and the Salafi and Nour parties and so on.
REHMHow many women in parliament?
SHEHATAI believe that it's about one percent of the 498 seats. That's, you know, what I've read recently. Not an exact figure. So that's an unfortunately small number.
SHEHATAIt was made mandatory for the party list proportional representation system that parties include one woman on their list of candidates that they were running in each constituency. And even this is interesting because it was always the case that the Salafi, the most conservative groups, always placed the woman on the lowest position on the list. Whereas, in some cases the Muslim Brotherhood had women running at higher levels in the list.
SHEHATAAnd so the Salafis also didn't put women's pictures on any of the campaign material, that is the candidates. They would put a flower or the symbol of the party. Whereas the Muslim Brotherhood, Muslim Sisters, the Freedom of Justice party candidates regularly campaigned, their pictures were up on posters and campaign materials and so on. So there are significant differences even between these different types of Islamists, as Robin mentioned earlier.
REHMRobin, when you are there in Egypt, how are you, as a reporter, regarded?
WRIGHTI don't think any different than any time in the past. I've been covering the Middle East for 40 years and I'm welcomed, I think, in the same way as I always have been when I go to Egypt. I will say on the issue of women, one of the things that's striking is that the largest number of women in parliament are almost surely from the Muslim Brotherhood because they won...
WRIGHT...47 percent of the seats. And therefore, just because of the sheer numbers, there are more women. But it was the military that actually abolished the 10 percent guaranteed number of seats for women in parliament. So we tend to think that...
REHMAnd who had dictated that 10 percent?
SHEHATAIt was the Mubarak regime in 2007. But I think many of us felt that it was simply a cosmetic maneuver.
SHEHATAThey put in place a quota where 64 of the seats would be reserved for women. And this we felt was an attempt to demonstrate to the West that they were progressive in instituting these pro-women policies, when in fact we know that wasn't the case.
REHMBut then the military wiped it out?
WRIGHTYes, exactly. I mean, this is the irony. Whether they were cosmetic or not...
WRIGHT...the fact is that 10 percent of women were brought in.
WRIGHTAnd it was the idea of legitimizing women. But I wanna say one thing that Samer pointed out. And I think it's really important. When we talk about these Islamist parties, the thing that's so interesting, the difference between them, the fundamental difference goes to the issue of which comes first, freedom or religion. And for the Muslim Brotherhood, they're beginning to embrace the idea that you can get into a political system and legitimate rights for Muslims through democracy.
WRIGHTWhereas the Salafi still believe that you can't get freedom until you live in a really Islamic system. And it's such a fundamental difference and it has to do with this critical question of moderates versus radicals. And the whole issue of when it comes to writing a constitution, when you create a new order in the Middle East and what it's going to look like. And that's the essence of what's been going on really in the region since the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
REHMAll right. To Orlando, Fla. Good morning, Matt. Thanks for joining us.
MATTGood morning, Diane. Love the show. Hey, I had a question for the panel. What can we expect in terms of trade liberalization and also domestic economic liberalization if the Freedom and Justice party were to hold its -- I believe they have a plurality at the moment.
SHEHATASure. Well, you know, the Freedom and Justice party and Muslim Brothers have always believed in markets and private property. They have never been in favor of state domination of the economy and so on or communism, you know. However, they also have a conception of compassionate capitalism or social justice or the idea that workers should be compensated and protected. To some extent it's a naive conception of inability to reconcile in an Islamic framework the interests of capital and labor and so on.
SHEHATAThat being said, however, you know, in terms of Matt's question, the revolutions in Egypt and Tunisia and so on were to some extent revolutions against neoliberal economic policies, policies of privatization and trade liberalization, floating foreign currencies and so on. And there's going to be, and there is, a tremendous backlash against those policies. One of the primary slogans during the 18 days in Egypt was bread, freedom and social justice. And I think that we're not going to see full neoliberal economic policies of the past adopted. And that's one of the reasons why the military authorities rejected the IMF loan earlier because it symbolized that.
REHMHow much power will the Salafis have? Will they be able to form a voting block that somehow impedes any kind of true liberalization, Robin?
WRIGHTWell, they have about 25 percent of the seats in parliament. And that will allow them to be a pressure block, particularly when it comes to the constitution. And that's basically all that the parliament's going to do for the next six months, is write a new constitution in order to prepare for presidential elections. They'll have to figure out, you know, again, whether it's parliamentary system executives, there's a lot of big issues to be decided and the social code, this Article 2 that we've talked about. They will be ones that are pressing.
WRIGHTBut they're also so inexperienced that as newcomers, their party was formed, you know, last summer compared with the Muslim Brotherhood that goes back to 1928. And when it comes to their economic policies, they're almost wacky. They talk about they want medical tourism, that they want to become a major country for Africans and Arabs to go to for healthcare. Well, as anybody's been to Egypt knows, you don't go to Egypt for healthcare. But those are the kinds of...
REHMHow bad is it?
WRIGHTWell, Samer could probably tell it better.
SHEHATAWell, I mean, the public health, you know, care institutions, as well as really education and other government, you know, state services have deteriorated significantly. So...
WRIGHTThey're mediocre, at best.
SHEHATAYeah, you know, you have to pay for decent private healthcare. And, you know, quite unfortunately, even in the supposedly public hospitals you have to pay for, you know, food, medicines and so on. So there's been...
REHMTell me what's happened to Egypt and especially Cairo, cosmetically. When I was there a few years ago the city was dirty and there was trash, there was garbage all over the place. Has the revolution made any difference at all, Robin?
WRIGHTWell, when you go to Tahrir Square one of the things that's most striking is you see the headquarters of the National Democratic party, Hosni Mubarak's party, that ruled for so long. And it's a charred shell of a building. There are little symbols of what's transpired over the past year. There's a street where there are lots of cement blocks and barbed wires to protect government buildings. But by and large, Cairo is the same it's always been. Cairo's always been dusty. It will always be dusty. That kind of thing has not changed.
WRIGHTPeople are really looking for something more tangible. I mean, Cairo's a wonderful place, but it's not the physical characteristics that matter to Egyptian's right now.
REHMAll right. To Mohammad, here in Washington. Good morning. You're on the air.
MOHAMMADGood morning. Yeah, I live in Washington for the last 30 some years, but I grow up in Jordan. I am from Jordan originally. And I think the West, we always misunderstand the way the women are treated. We look only at Saudi Arabia and we measure the rest of the Middle East as Saudi Arabia. My mom and my sisters reign their houses. And they still do. Overseas, the income of one person is enough and family is very important. Raising children is very important. So the mother always chooses to be the one who will take care of the children.
MOHAMMADTheir freedom in the government is there since I was a child, which I'm in the 50s now, I've seen women in the military, I've seen women in the police, I've seen women in the government serving equally to the men. As a matter of fact, my niece works in a big university and she has a very high position. So the West really has to understand we don't, you know, it doesn't have to be just like American woman. I mean, you know, other people have different way of living and different expressions. And we have to understand that and respect it.
REHMYes, sir. And I do agree that there are different ways and there must be respect. And you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Robin?
WRIGHTI think he's wrong. I think one of the things that's so striking across the Middle East today in the early 21st century is the fact that women are one of the two agents of change. The other one is the youth demographic. But women have been on the front lines of demonstrations across the region. The tragedy is that's what happened in Egypt and this happened to a lesser degree, I think, elsewhere, is that women have not been embraced by many of their male counterparts as equal players in this process.
WRIGHTWhen women try to organize a million women march last spring in Egypt after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the men turned out at Tahrir Square to harass them and try to prevent them. And we had the famous blue bra incident in Cairo in, I think, late November or early December, when a woman was roughed up at Tahrir Square by security forces, to the point that they ripped her clothes off and exposed her blue bra. And the blue bra became kind of the symbol for women.
WRIGHTThe fact that the military has removed this quota for women removes the guarantee women had to be players even as a minority, the fact that we're down to just one percent in parliament. The rebellion has not been good in terms of the structural outlets for women, but there is really far greater interest in political participation, education, having control over their lives than ever before.
REHMSamer, what kinds of changes do you see the U.S. making towards Egypt during this transition period?
SHEHATANot too many, in fact. I think that generally America has less influence with regard to Egypt than it did under the Mubarak regime. And Egypt is going to be less likely to accept or follow American foreign policy. I think, of course, there is tremendous interest in Congress about the makeup of the new parliament, particularly issues of Camp David, the peace treaty, relations with Gaza and Hamas, the border issues and so on, possible support or perceived support for terrorist organizations. I think that's largely how many American politicians view Egypt.
SHEHATAThe administration has said on a number of occasions that they are not willing, do not want to use the $1.3 billion of military aid conditionally. That is they don't want to condition either the transition to democracy or human rights and so on with this because they see in the SCAF, I think unfortunately, an institution that they know, that they've done business with, that they can relate to, one of the only remaining institutions in Egypt that they can engage with.
SHEHATASo I don't see the relationship, you know, major changes in the short term. In the long term I think American and Egyptian interests and policies in the region I think are going to diverge.
SHEHATATo some extent. I mean, you know, to think about a foreign policy that is some ways a reflection of the will of the majority of the people. That's going to mean greater support for the Palestinians. It's going to mean not agreeing to support the bombing of Iran, all kinds of issues.
REHMSamer Shehata, assistant professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University. Robin Wright, a joint fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace and the Woodrow Wilson International Center. Thank you both.
REHMAnd thanks for listening all. I'm Diane Rehm.
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