Egyptians Take First Step toward Democracy

June 29, 2012

Less than one week ago, Dr. Mohamed Morsi became the first democratically elected president in Egypt’s thousands of years of history. As Egypt goes through the next stage of its democratic transition, Morsi’s election understandably has been met with both excitement and skepticism by the Egyptian people and the international community.

Aside from the fact that these elections in Egypt were historic, the amount of attention focused on the electoral process was due to Egypt’s status in the region, highlighting the old adage: as Egypt goes, so goes the Arab world. Egypt’s shift toward democracy sets an example and sends a signal to the rest of the region that democracy has a chance to thrive and that people can have a say in determining governance.

President Barack Obama called Morsi this week to congratulate him and pledge “to advance the many shared interests between Egypt and the United States.” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated she is pleased so far with Morsi’s commitment to respect Egypt’s international obligations and expects that a smooth transition to a pluralistic democracy will include women, minorities and young people. Days after his election, Morsi declared in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that he plans to appoint a Coptic Christian and a woman as his vice-presidents.

Indeed, the transition to a sustainable democracy does not come after one election — it will be a continuous effort and will need the support and hard work of the Egyptian people and the international community. One round of parliamentary and presidential elections does not determine the viability of democracy. It is democratic institutions within government, strong civil society and the ability for the average Egyptian to have a voice in determining their future that will define whether Egypt becomes a real and functioning democracy. The real work has yet to begin.

Thus far, Morsi has alluded to the importance of national unity in his speeches and suggested that the only way to “get Egypt out of this difficult crisis” is to maintain a unified Egypt for all Egyptians. He and his party have gone so far as to state that “Egypt will definitely not be an Islamic republic.” In the midst of this period of transition, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) has yet to transfer power to president-elect Morsi and the international community has yet to see if presidential powers in the constitution will be restored.

Democracy is an ideal that is preserved through vigilance and sincere effort of citizenry. Out of chaos can come greatness; our own national history can be used as a prime example. As America gears up to celebrate its 236th Independence Day next week, we must remember the turmoil our Founding Fathers went through in order to set up a system that would preserve the treasures that democracy has to offer.

As such, the Egyptian people will need support as they transition out of thousands of years of undemocratic rule and establish a system that will benefit a new Egypt for all Egyptians.

[Contact: Hoda Elshishtawy, Legislative and Policy Analyst, (202) 547-7701,

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