Al-Ahram Weekly Online   3 - 9 March 2011
Issue No. 1037
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Egypt's fifth president

Given the grievances and aspirations of Egyptians who have taken to the streets and the challenges the country faces, what qualities should Egypt's fifth president possess, asks Ezzedine Choukri Fishere*

After the dust settles and when the Higher Council of the Armed Forces, the political forces and the general public finally wrestle some kind of political system from the current mess, a fifth president will, hopefully, be elected. The next president of Egypt will face daunting challenges, raised expectations and contradictory demands from inside and outside the country. This is partly why I am not running for the job. Instead, I will try to identify the set of qualities that will enable this president to deal effectively with these formidable challenges.

First of all, the fifth president needs to be a moderniser with a forward-looking, daring and socially sensitive vision. Egypt's revolution is above all an outcry for renewal: in every institution, political, social or economic, the younger generations have been suffocating under the tight and largely useless grip of an ossified leadership, whose anachronistic and dysfunctional methods have brought these institutions to a stand-still.

The younger generations see this revolution as an opportunity to break away from this heritage and bring change to their economic, social and political realities. The fifth president has to be able not only to understand this deep desire for change, but also to share it. S/he has to be more inclined to use e-mail than faxes, review rather than comply, and look for new ways to unleash repressed energies. The fifth president must be able to transform this desire for change into tangible and comprehensive programmes of modernisation. Doing this requires a vision that sees modernisation as a socially grounded process, not one driven by a copy-and-paste approach.

Secondly, the next president has to be reconciliatory. This is necessary for the deep wounds of the past to heal and for the country to move forward as a whole. Despite the rhetoric of unity, Egypt today is a profoundly divided society between Muslims and Christians, rich and poor, secular and religious, traditionalists and liberals, Cairenes and the rest, etc. Decades of authoritarianism have sustained -- and widened -- the gaps between these groups. Sometimes it pitted them against each other. Egypt will not be able to rise and move forward unless it moves together. Great political skill will be needed on the part of the fifth president to reconcile the grievances and aspirations of these groups.

Thirdly, the fifth president needs to be a world citizen and a nationalist at the same time. In recent years, Egypt and the world have been on a collision course. Frustrated by its failure to address its own historic grievances, Egyptian nationalism has been sinking into self-victimisation and hostility towards the world. The rest of the world has watched with irritation what it interprets as excessive sensitivity and a lack of tolerance, and it has become increasingly impatient with -- and fearful of -- the grievances fueling these sentiments. To reverse this course, the fifth president will have to act as a bridge-builder between Egypt and the rest of the world. This requires an understanding of and empathy with both sides, as well as a determination to protect Egypt's identity while integrating it fully into the world.

The fifth president also has to score highly on the integrity scale. It is no secret that corruption has been widespread and systemic. Restoring public trust in government officials and business people is necessary for economic recovery and for a healthy political life. Without indulging in witch-hunts, the fifth president should be decisive in letting corrupt heads roll when necessary and above all in taking effective measures to avoid conflicts of interest, abuse of the privileges of office and the amalgamation of private and public. To do this, the next president should lead by example.

Finally, the fifth president will have to be a popular -- not a populist -- leader. Obviously, s/ he will have to inspire the people and enjoy their trust in order to lead them through difficult times and decisions. But the next president will need to resist falling in love with people's acclaim and to remember that leadership is not about following what the people want but about taking them through the difficult choices they must face. This might turn out to be the most difficult challenge facing the coming president.

But above all, the fifth president must have no children, or a wife for that matter.

* The writer is a novelist and a professor of political science at the American University in Cairo. He has a wife and three children.

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