The scenes from Cairo's Tahrir Square have served to inspire observers from around the world, as a people-powered revolution used nonviolent protest as a means to end the 30 year rule of Hosni Mubarak. With their newfound freedoms, come new responsibilities. In the coming weeks, the U.S. must closely monitor Egyptian commitments to Israel through the Camp David Peace Accord, the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood, and national security concerns related to counter terrorism in the region. If asked, the U.S. should stand ready to help Egypt's democrats, not only because it's the right thing to do, but because it is in our core national security and economic interests.
While Egypt is in for an extended period of uncertainty, the early signs of democratic reform are encouraging. The military has taken over and has made steps to commit Egypt to a democratic path which will result in elections. The constitution, a document that provided the legal basis for Mubarak's extended stay in power has been suspended. The parliament, the result of fraudulent elections last November, has been dismissed. Most importantly, the military has expressed a commitment to maintaining the Camp David Peace Accord with Israel. This is a central concern for the U.S. and I sent a letter Secretary Clinton reiterating this point last week.
As Egyptians sort out their political process in the revolution's aftermath, I have concerns that democratic gains made by courageous activists on the streets could be hijacked by a small minority, not committed to the principles of non-violence or respect for secular voices.
The Muslim Brotherhood played a small role in the demonstrations, preferring to take a back seat to the courageous young activists who braved the police barricades, tear gas and rubber bullets. It has pledged allegiance to the army during the transition and asserts that it will not run a candidate in the presidential elections. Observers note that the group is nonviolent, a claim that will be tested in the coming months and years. In Mubarak's Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood would have been smashed to pieces if it even hinted at the use of violence.
The U.S. would be well served to treat this group with a serious degree of skepticism. The Brotherhood is openly hostile to Israel. Given its history and nefarious connections across the region to groups like Hamas, the burden of proof is on the Brotherhood as it seeks to engage in the political process. It must show that it would indeed abide by the Camp David Peace Accord, that violence is not a legitimate form of expression and that the Egyptian people deserve a secular government that provides for freedoms of expression, religion, and assembly.
The Brotherhood should also recognize that these demonstrators, not them, were successful in ending the rule of Egypt's entrenched leader. If Egypt's youth could unseat Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood could meet the same ire from the masses.
One evening last July, I met at the U.S. Ambassador's residence in Cairo with a group of civil society activists who advocated for a more open political system in Egypt. They shared first-hand accounts of police brutality, election rigging and repression. At the same time, they shared a vision of a democratic Egypt. In our meeting, these activists were somewhat disorganized and disagreed about the opposition tactics -- a microcosm of the democratic process in action -- but they were highly intelligent, eager to engage with the international community and committed to a democratic Egypt. Given the time to organize and appeal to a broader public, democratically-oriented political parties and activists will emerge in Egypt that could blunt the electoral strength of the Brotherhood. In a transparent and open democratic process, it is these activists, and not the Brotherhood, which will to lead Egypt into a new future.
Egyptians will face considerable challenges in the months and years to come as they work to perfect their democratic experiment. If asked, we should stand ready to help not in the name of charity, but in the name of U.S. interests.