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The Center for the Study of Islam Democracy

Egypt’s Derailed Transition: Finding a Way Forward

Dr. Dalia Fahmy, Assistant Professor at Long Island University, delivered a presentation titled “Democracy Derailed: Moving Beyond the Ballot Box.” In it, she argued that what is happening in Egypt is not “damage done to democracy,” but a redefinition of authoritarian rule and an institutionalization of the deep state.

The changing reality requires a new way of thinking about three elements. The first is the closing of the political space, such as the new constitution and new laws make it hard for political opposition groups to be formed. Second is the elimination of public dissent, such as harsh sentences handed down to protesters, new policies requiring interior ministry approvals for any political gathering, and tight controls over mosques and preachers. Third is the removal of the trappings of democracy, such as the fact that the order of Egyptian elections was reversed to allow the presidential elections to preceded the parliamentary ones, allowing President Sisi to set the requirements for the elections to follow. This consolidated security, legislative, and executive powers in Sisi’s hands.

For the U.S., the strategic value of Egypt lies primarily in its role as chief negotiator vis-à-vis Israel, along with other security and diplomatic functions in the region. She said that Egypt under any leadership would be unlikely to abandon those commitments. While for decades the U.S. had sacrificed democracy for the sake of stability, the Arab uprisings proved that in the long run stability without democracy was unsustainable.

She concluded by recommending three strategic transformations. First, that the U.S. commit itself to democratic values and not just talk about them. Second, that the U.S. support civil society actors committed to democratic reforms and inclusion. Third, that the U.S. adopt the view and narrative that when democracy wins, terror loses, and that change through democratic means is better than change through violence and terror.

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