“Democracy is not an event. Democracy is a process,” Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohamed Kamel Amr said at a lecture on Thursday afternoon. He argued that Egypt’s transition toward democracy will be gradual and explained that it takes time to establish the institutions that will support a democratic government.
Amr’s talk came just one day after the United States announced that it would suspend a large portion of its military aid to Egypt, The New York Times reported. The decision came as a result of the Egyptian military’s use of violence against the recently ousted Muslim Brotherhood.
In his speech, Amr argued that the military’s use of force was not part of a coup, but rather was necessary to prevent even more violence from breaking out between various factions.
In a coup, “by definition, the military would take over,” Amr said. “But the military didn’t take over.”
The former ambassador said that, given the young age of Egypt’s democracy, the country is doing well. “There’s a civilian government and a civilian president,” he said.
However, he noted that his country does not have institutions that allow its people to voice their opinions.
“We are practicing democracy in its lowest form in Egypt,” he said. “It is democracy of the streets.”
Amr explained that there are a number of competing interests at play. He noted the fact that the extremist group Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a relationship that is troubling to Americans and Egyptians alike. He said this affiliation concerns him, adding that, in a situation like this, “You always have doubt about where their real loyalties are.”
But he said he remains hopeful about Egypt’s future. The fact that the people are becoming invested in the democratic process is a good sign. The protestors “won’t allow any diversion” from the democratic path that Egypt is set on, he said.
“You talk to street vendors, and they start talking to you about institutions, about foreign policy,” and about a number of other factors in Egypt’s ongoing transition, Amr said. He noted this was indicative of the average Egyptian’s investment in his country’s future.
For now, Egypt is following a nine-month “road map” toward a functioning democracy. The country already has an interim president, the former head of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour, and a constitutional committee, he said.
Once the committee finishes its work, legislative elections will be held, followed by a presidential election. Amr said he hopes that this time, the necessary institutions will be in place to ensure that every Egyptian’s voice is heard, in contrast to what happened after the 2012 revolution.
When asked about the possibility of extremist forces taking control in Egypt, Amr said that Egypt has experienced a series of tumultuous changes throughout its history but that it has always avoided extremism.
“Egypt is a moderate country. Always, the pendulum comes back to the middle,” he said. “Any group who tries to prove otherwise will face the same fate as the Muslim Brotherhood.”