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Skilled negotiators need to step up or there’ll be anarchy on Cairo’s streets, say Ebrahim Rasool and Ebrahim Moosa.
Washington - 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 back from the brink of anarchy. We believe an internationally constituted group of eminent persons should jump-start such an effort by brokering conditions for talks between all Egyptian players.
Such a group should include Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu, former Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad, Tunisia’s Renaissance Party leader Rachid Ghannouchi, former US national security adviser Jim Jones, former Irish president Mary Robinson and veteran Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi. With the support of the AU, South Africa, Turkey and Qatar on the one hand, and the US, the EU and the Gulf Co-operation Council on the other, the group should engage credible Egyptian leaders to facilitate breakthroughs, a task no one inside Egypt can accomplish now.
A 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 players, including members of the Muslim Brotherhood and 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 the political process. Doing so would restore confidence to a damaged process and start the healing process.
* Use Egypt’s 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 US pressure. If the army retreats, the spectre of authoritarian rule will be removed.
* Deploy police to provide effective security with external monitoring. Such a move is necessary to establish law and order in the major cities, one of the grievances of the anti-Mursi protesters.
* Facilitate free 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 IMF to support economic development plus a donor package targeting the restoration of Egypt’s tourism industry.
For their part, the US and the EU must exercise their strategic and economic leverage to rein in the Egyptian army before it entrenches itself and reverses the gains of the Arab Spring. President Barack Obama’s condemnation of the past week’s violence must be bolstered with decisive US and EU action to restrain the army: withholding military aid until an inclusive political process is achieved.
Egypt’s stability is vital to the geostrategic politics of Africa, Europe and the Middle East, especially as they relate to the US. Its ability to be democratic has the potential to forge these values in the broader Arab world.
Moreover, with Syria’s civil war spilling over into Iraq and Lebanon, continued violence in Egypt will seriously jeopardise regional security – something that fits al-Qaeda’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 US and the founder of the World for All Foundation. Ebrahim Moosa is a professor of Islamic studies at Duke University.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.