Preventing Egypt from sliding into civil war is a global security issue, as young militants who a year ago trusted the ballot box could potentially turn into the next generation of extremists.
What’s urgently needed is a multi-pronged strategy involving people of moral authority and leaders from countries trusted by the Muslim Brotherhood, the military and secular and liberal groups who can help Egypt walk back from the brink of anarchy and its growing loss of life. We believe an internationally constituted group of eminent persons should jump-start such an effort by brokering conditions for talks between all Egyptian players in an inclusive manner.
Such a group should include Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu of South Africa, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, Tunisia’s Renaissance Party leader Rachid Ghannouchi, former U.S. national security adviser Jim Jones, former Irish president Mary Robinson and veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi. With the support of the African Union, South Africa, Turkey and Qatar on the one hand, and the United States, the European Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council on the other, the group should immediately engage credible Egyptian leaders to facilitate breakthroughs, a task no one inside Egypt can accomplish now.
A first priority for the group is to urge all parties to end the political deadlock by reconstituting an interim but inclusive civilian government of all the political players, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood, along with skilled technocrats.
This requires the release of political detainees. These measures should de-escalate tensions despite the already-high recent death toll.
Egypt’s interim civilian government should have six immediate priorities:
— Lift the state of emergency and free up the political process. Doing so would restore confidence to a damaged political process and start the healing process.
— Use Egypt’s current constitution as a draft for discussion on a final document. This would provide continuity with a legitimate, existing political process while acknowledging its shortcomings.
— Restrict the army to its barracks, enforced by pressure from the United States. If the army retreats, the specter of authoritarian rule will be removed and democratic initiatives will be encouraged.
— Deploy police forces to provide effective security with external monitoring. Such a move is necessary to establish law and order in all major cities, one of the grievances of the anti-Morsi protesters.
— Facilitate free and fair elections within a reasonable timeframe, say 12 months.
— Foster institutions for democratic rule and economic recovery. This could include a major aid package from the International Monetary Fund to support economic development plus a donor package targeting the restoration of Egypt’s tourism industry and other infrastructure needs.
For their part, the United States and the European Union must exercise their strategic and economic leverage to rein in the Egyptian army before it entrenches itself and reverses all the gains of the Arab Spring. President Barack Obama’s condemnation of the past week’s bloody violence must be bolstered with decisive U.S. and E.U. action to restrain the army: withholding military aid until an inclusive political process is achieved.
Egypt’s security and stability are vital to the geostrategic politics of Africa, Europe and the Middle East, especially as they relate to the United States. Egypt’s ability to be free and democratic has the potential to forge these values in the broader Arab and Muslim world.
Moreover, with Syria’s civil war already spilling over into Iraq and Lebanon, continued violence in Egypt will seriously jeopardize regional security — something that fits al-Qaida’s agenda.
The cost of doing nothing and simply managing our respective interests is to witness a major Arab country becoming a failed state, a prospect responsible leaders would not wish even on their enemies.
Ebrahim Rasool is South Africa’s ambassador to the United States and the founder of the World for All Foundation. Ebrahim Moosa is a professor of Islamic studies at Duke University.