5 Ways Egypt Can Avoid Becoming Pakistan

Pakistan is a perfect example of what not to do with a military junta

Tantawi Jan13 P.jpg

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, speaks in Cairo / Reuters

When Hosni Mubarak resigned from the Egyptian presidency in February, many commentators asked whether Pakistan--an unstable Muslim country outside the Arab Middle East--would go the way of Egypt, experiencing what was then thought to be revolutionary change.

They should have asked whether Egypt would suffer the fate of Pakistan: a parliamentary democracy with a freely elected government but dominated by a military with a host of extraconstitutional powers.

Today, the question remains as valid as it was last winter. Egypt is on course to follow Pakistan's quasi-praetorian path. There has been a change in government. Mubarak is gone. But the regime lives on through the powerful Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Egypt's democrats can learn from the successes and failures of their Pakistani counterparts. Here are five lessons from Pakistan.

1) Don't let the military divide and rule the civilians.

In Pakistan, warring parties managed to pass a constitutional amendment that reduced presidential powers and the dominance of the Punjab province. But the collapse of a coalition between the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League (Nawaz) caused a political crisis in which the army had to intervene, albeit short of a coup. The army has not fully retreated to the barracks since then.

To avoid the same fate, Egypt's political parties must cooperate, leaving no vacuum for military intervention. The generals there have signaled that they want to influence the composition of a constitution-drafting Constituent Assembly. Though it has since backtracked, the military could again try to interfere with the constitution-drafting process by leveraging secular and Coptic Christian fears of Islamist influence. To keep the military at bay, it's key that the Muslim Brotherhood--which, combined with the Salafist movement, won over 60 percent of the vote--ensures that the drafting process won't be a majoritarian enterprise alienating non-Islamists.

Egypt's major political parties have real competing interests and values. But these differences should not inhibit them from ensuring that elected representatives, not the military, choose who drafts a new democratic constitution.

2) Empower parliament and improve its capacity and competence.

Pakistani politicians pronounce the sovereignty of parliament, yet its National Assembly is inefficient, has a meager attendance rate and inadequately staffed oversight committees. This has created a vacuum in Pakistan that is filled by an activist Supreme Court, agenda-driven media and an interventionist army.

The Democracy ReportEgyptian democrats should avoid the fate of Pakistan by not only bestowing parliament with real legislative, budgetary and oversight powers but also improving the capacity and competence of legislators. After Egypt's 2005 elections, the Muslim Brotherhood actively worked to enhance discussion of the federal budget and increase the competency of its legislators over policy issues through its "parliamentary kitchen." But these efforts should be expanded to include formal educational programs for legislators on policy issues and legislative strategies.

3) Selectively roll back the military's powers.

In Pakistan, the prime minister, president and army chief--known as the troika--meet informally to determine foreign and security policy. The army chief-dominated troika has contributed to political stability in the country. But it is inherently antidemocratic, not sustainable beyond the current cast of characters and offers little depth to policy making.

Presented by

Arif Rafiq is president of Vizier Consulting, LLC, which provides strategic guidance on Middle East and South Asian political and security issues.

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