BREAKING: Egypt Transitional Government Names Economist Hazem al-Beblawi Prime Minister

by Andrew C. McCarthy

Al-Ahram is reporting that Haze El-Beblawy has been appointed Egypt’s interim prime minister.

Beblawy is a lawyer and a progressive, Paris-educated economist. He was a prominent banker during the Mubarak regime, worked at the U.N., and, following Mubarak’s ouster, was deputy finance minister and, later, finance minister, under the government led by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. His Wikipedia bio indicates that he resigned from office after an October 2011 incident in which Coptic Christians were killed by security forces (I recount that incident in Spring Fever). He helped found the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, and also writes a weekly column for Al-Ahram (which is state-controlled).

Between this appointment and the issuance of a new “constitutional declaration” yesterday, it is clear that the post-coup government is attempting to do what the democracy fetish — specifically, the elections equal democracy fallacy — prevented it from doing the first time around: Establish a functioning, competent government that first installs the fundamentals of minority rights and equal protection, then enshrines those principles in a constituiton, and only then — based on that foundation — conducts popular elections. There is a good chance that it won’t work. After all, this is Egypt and, given the opportunity, Egyptians have repeatedly shown that they will vote by lopsided margins for anti-democratic Islamic supremacists over pro-Western democrats and progressives. As Mark trenchantly observed yesteday, “Egypt is imprisoned less by its passing dictators than by its own psychoses.” Nevertheless, what’s done is done, and the present course is the best chance some semblance of democracy has to take root. We should be cautiously encouraging it.  

I think the generals and their appointed president, Adly Mansour, are figuring Beblawy is Mohammed ElBaradei without the baggage. While ElBaradei (a Bush nemesis and Iran’s best friend when he ran the IAEA) is very popular among Western progressives, he is held in low regard in his native Egypt — where Islamic supremacism holds sway and where, as I noted here last week, he has had trouble trying to vote, let alone running for office. Rumors over the weekend that he would be named interim prime minister nearly fractured the fragile coalition the military had assembled in support of the coup (a coalition that never really had any chance of holding and that has now been fractured by the escalating violence). The Al-Ahram report cited above further states that ElBaradei has been appointed “vice president for foreign affairs” — a selection that will go over a lot better in Washington than in Alexandria. 

It is a tragic shame that “Islamic democracy” enthusiasts put so much pressure on Egypt to hold elections after Mubarak fell. If the military had then tried what it is doing now — if it had put in place a transitional government and postponed elections until after the adoption of a new constituiton guaranteeing minority rights and equal protection — there would have been a better chance of success. Instead, it went right to elections, with the predictable consequence that Islamic supremacists were elected and got to write the constitution, that the people then approved by a whopping two-to-one margin. So now, as the mosques stoke opposition to the transition government against a background of shooting on the streets and an economy in ruins, there will also be a vivid sense that the leaders elected by the people have been shoved aside in favor of politicians decisively rejected by the people. This is going to be very uphill.

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