Harvard professor discusses prospects of Egypt leadership

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Egypt has the chance to install a true democracy if it conducts its elections effectively, a Harvard University professor said Thursday.

Former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who resigned in February after weeks of a popular uprising, designed his autocratic government to be a resilient institution that could stand up to attempts at overthrow and bring together elites to manage the country, Harvard associate public policy professor Tarek Masoud said in a talk hosted by the Robert S. Strauss Center.

However, the system created resentment among the military, a segment of the elite Mubarak needed to hold on to power, he said.

“When push came to shove, the military allowed the people to continue with the revolution,” Masoud said. “They sided with the people. This [elite] institution actually weakened the regime because the military was not on its side.”

Parliamentary elections, which were thought to be a longevity factor in the regime, actually weakened it, Masoud said.

“Young protesting people got their ideas from the institutions that are supposed to promote longevity,” Masoud said. “People weren’t vested in the regime.”

There are five challenges Masoud said he believes pose a threat to true democratic consolidation in Egypt: getting the military back to the barracks, forming a new constitution, coping with Islamic fundamentalists, removing elements of Mubarak’s regime and getting people to believe the revolution was good for them.

“The military is interrogating Mubarak and members of his regime,” said Mahmoud Al-Batal, UT associate professor of Arabic. “Many Egyptians see this as a positive step, holding the old regime accountable for corruption and embezzling.”

Masoud said he doubts the military’s desire to leave power as the greatest shareholder of public factories and lands in Egypt but said they are taking very drastic steps that demonstrate they do want to get out of power.

“It is almost certain that [Islamic group] the Muslim Brothers will be in the election and get a good portion of seats in parliament,” Al-Batal said. “But the test is about the process of elections. These will be the first true elections in Egypt.”

Despite these challenges, Masoud said he is optimistic about Egypt’s democratization and the effect it could have on its neighbors, but if it does fail, the surrounding countries will “thank their lucky stars” for their own stability.

Farrah Farley, global policy studies graduate student, said she agrees with Masoud’s optimism.

“This is an unprecedented movement where the blue collars, educated class and past Mubarak sympathizers united in a way they haven’t before,” Farley said. “Democracy can result after the 2011 elections, but they must keep the solidarity alive.”