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Egypt’s process of democratization has, for many years, been influenced by certain factors. While many achievements have been made in Egypt in an attempt to achieve full democratization, it can be said that several challenges still face this vital process. Politics, economic environment, and the political history of Egypt are vital variables that have continued to shape democratic space in the Egyptian state.
Ineffective government policies, high illiteracy levels, very low employment opportunities in the country, high population growth rate and the minimal employment opportunities are some of the major aspects of the Egyptian economy that have continued to define and effectively influence the country’s democratization process. Egypt’s main economic sectors include the agricultural and industrial sectors. The industrial sector includes the automobile, chemical, electronics, textile, clothing, steel industries, and construction subsectors. The service sector is another major sector of the Egyptian economy (Abdel-Hameed, 2005).
With a more than $3 billion debt, Egypt has continued to remain uncertain concerning prospects of enhancing its political or economic wellbeing. Overreliance on states such as China, the United States and the European Union for financial support has made it difficult for the country as most of its policies and democratic processes are shaped by the views and demands of external parties. Consequently, political interference derails the country’s efforts to practice freedom of expression and to have an in-depth and streamlined process of boosting the country’s economy.
With a population of 83 million people, Egypt’s economy continues to improve despite economic challenges. Reviving the country’s plummeting economy has been a major struggle. The political struggle has been influenced by the belief that economic powers and democratic processes play a vital role in enhancing democracy. Huge gaps in the country’s budget, a sudden drop in its currency reserves, high unemployment rate and the unequal economic opportunities between the rich and the poor in the country have continued to affect the country’s economy negatively.
As a result, Caryle (2002) believes that economic inequality has continued to make democracy and politics to be a preserve of the rich. Worst still, a wide economic disparity has increasingly made the political class to “own” the electorate and manipulate the electoral process, thus derailing the efforts being made to achieve full democracy.
Faced with the recent negative impact of the global financial crisis, Egypt’s economic environment has increasingly become dynamic, challenging, and unpredictable. Revolutionary movements in Egypt, especially in the year 2011, have not only focused on realizing economic growth but also on enhancing political stability, tranquillity, and equity. Rather than help in fostering acceptable democratic space over the years, the government has continued to engage in unethical business practices such as corruption, ethnicity, racism, and nepotism.
The mentioned vices infiltrate the country’s political system because the political class focuses on economic activities that are likely to bring its benefits. The economic environment is therefore used as a means of achieving selfish political goals, vengeance and putting in place biased political structures that derail the full democratization of Egypt’s political system. While the economic environment may not have a direct impact on the political policies and development strategies, it helps to shape the democratic space of a nation and also influence the political direction
Egypt’s political history
Islamic religion has continued to play an essential role in the democratization of Egypt. Though dynamic, the Islamic religion highly influences how the political class makes varied decisions that influence the country’s democratic process. The existence of a constitutionally recognized monarchy in the country has continued to have a great impact on the democratization process of the country.
Other than the 1952 revolution and the Nasser rule period related to Arab socialism, United Arab Republic, Sada era, various regional interventions, and Muslim brotherhood conflicts, Egypt has continued to experience many conflicts in its political developments that have increasingly complicated the country’s democratization process (Caryle, 2002). Egypt’s political system has a lot of similarities with the traditional Indonesian system.
While the current Egyptian political system has little similarities with the political development in the country, the Indonesian political developments after the post-1998 circumstances highly influence social, economic and political developments in the country (Boix, 2003). Despite attempts to involve all people in the country’s leadership structure, the existence of selfish political forces, desire to implement and mandatorily impose stringent Islamic laws, efforts to maintain the “status quo” by the political class have remained major issues of concern.
Democratization has not been fully successful. Mubarak’s policies which were inclined to Islamic religion proved to be a major challenge in the democratization process. The oppressive governance of Hosni Mubarak and his ultimate ousting from office were vital circumstances that best defined the degree to which Egypt had tried to achieve an effective, dynamic, and stable democratic process.
The unending quest for peaceful democratic process compelled people to defy government sponsored curfew, police brutality, pervasive electoral process, forged election and formulation of dictatorial and retrogressive policies that were aimed at maintaining the status quo. Between 2000 and 2010, the slow yet steady rise of President Hosni’s son, Gamal, in the then ruling party, NDP, acted as a major setback for enhancing the rule of law and realization of full democracy. The seven days peaceful revolution that took place in Egypt proved that dictatorship had no place in modern Egyptian society.
The peaceful revolution also paved the way for an effective democratic process and a democratic electoral process that had been desired for a long time. The tense and very rigid autocratic leadership of Hosni Mubarak proved that autocratic leadership was a major hindrance to the democratization of a nation. Having held a constitutional referendum in 2011and a subsequent parliamentary election, Egypt has managed to steer its democracy towards its full realization.
The electoral process has become more transparent with minor incidences of post-election violence, voter bribery, corruption and nepotism being reported in the country after the 2011 elections in which Mohamed Mursi was democratically elected to the presidency. With the background of the past incidences of unrest, political instability, and conflicts and many other past revolutions, the 2011 revolution, through the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, has put in place many crucial legal and democratic institutions.
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Even though Egypt has managed to slowly move into a market-oriented political and economic nation, full democratization of the country has continued to be elusive. The situation is made worse by the existence of a legitimate electoral process either at the national or county level. In the recent ties, the country’s political system has been unstable with no clear government structures (Carlyle, 2002; Boix, (2003).
Several economic, social, technological, and political external issues highly influence the democratization process in Egypt. External issues such as the use of financial aid as an economic stimulus are sure indicators that economic development in the country is undertaken by various external policies. For instance, in offering a $1 billion debt relief and providing $375 million in loan guarantees and financial assistance for major American financial institutions and companies, the U.S government has managed to successfully influence the Egyptian electoral process.
Rather than act as a motivating factor towards the practice of democracy, political relations among countries and over-reliance on foreign aid are major impediments to the success of Egypt’ political reform and expansion of the democratic space in the country.
This external issue also relates to the fact that political unrest in the Arab and Middle East regions have increasingly made it difficult for political leaders to implement clear democratic strategies, development plans and dynamic economic and political development approaches (Caryle, 2002). The situation has continued to be worsened by the fact that foreign countries that have vested interests often opt to fund and influence political parties and movements.
Though financial stimuli is a crucial aspect of enhancing economic growth, it plays a fundamental role in ensuring that the U.S influences decisions in the political system and policy formulation by the Egyptian government. Like the United States of America, China’s recent signing of a financial stimulus deal with Egypt, which aims at revamping the country’s agricultural system.
It also focuses on enhancing environmental growth and development and streamlining the telecommunication system. Egypt’s political system offers a suitable investment environment for Chinese investors. Unfortunately, rather than concentrate on enhancing the political goodwill, the economic developments brought about by Egypt’s major economic partners interfere with political values and thus weakened its democratic strategies.
The International Criminal Court’s indictment of President Albashir of Sudan and the criminal cases in progress at the court against several African political leaders has continued to cause a lot of distress about the court’s role in enhancing democracy in Africa. The court has continued to be a major threat to the democratization process of several countries in Africa. Rather than encouraging political leaders to uphold the rule of law, the inception of ICC on July 1, 2002, has continued to make Egyptian leaders disregard democracy and instead opt for retrogressive strategies of retaining economic and political power.
As an external issue of concern, it is evident that the emergence of the International Criminal Court has been a hindrance to the democratization efforts being made in the country. Religion, terrorism, and Islamist challenges are issues that have continued to affect domestic political development in Egypt. Egypt, being an Arab state, has continued to be perceived to be in support of Islamic terrorism activities. While it may not be possible to substantiate the claims, the perceptions often make it difficult for political leaders in the country to establish effective international relationships with other states (Boix, 2003)
As a result; the country does not get the international support needed to improve political development, justice, and adherence to the rule of law. On the other hand, some of the Islamic region’s values that enhance cooperation seem to demand the upholding of unpopular political ideals that are not democratically popular. Weak political ideals derived from Egypt’s neighbors who are politically unstable, often derail Egypt’s process of achieving full democratization due to the lack of moral and political support (Newton, Van &Jan, 2005).
From the above analysis, it is apparent that the democratization process in Egypt has faced several challenges. The challenges of democratization faced varying based on religious issues, the involvement of the private sector, political instability, failure to respect political differences, unfair representation, and increased political tension.
Abdel-Hameed, N. (2005). The Emerging Landscape of the Natural Gas in Egypt. Cairo, Egypt: University of Cairo.
Boix, C. (2003). Democracy and Redistribution. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.
Caryle, M. (2002). Passion for Islam: Shaping the Modern Middle East: the Egyptian Experience. Cairo, Egypt: Simon and Schuster.
Newton, K., Van, D., &Jan, W. (2005). Foundations of Comparative Politics. New York, USA: Cambridge University Press.