The United States is the world's most influential country -- and the time has come to use some of that power to sway events in Egypt. Until yesterday, the Obama administration had been lukewarm in its public support of reform in Egypt. But now that Hosni Mubarak has ceded his power to the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces, the U.S. must take an active role in pressing the military to implement democracy -- swiftly and equitably.
It's important to remember, the announcement made by Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman merely announced Mubarak's resignation. It did not mention democratic reform.
The high command of the armed forces subsequently issued an ambiguous statement promising "the peaceful transfer of authority ... towards a free democratic community that the people aspire to" -- but leaving out concrete details.
The U.S., a long-time supporter of Egypt's military, must make it clear that we will not tolerate the use of American weapons to prop up any more authoritarian regimes in Egypt. Democracy must come to Egypt -- and it must come now!
Without delay, President Obama should seize upon current developments to make a forceful call for the immediate implementation of steps that will set Egypt on the path to becoming the Arab world's beacon of freedom: a model liberal democracy.
Of course, all democracies -- liberal and illiberal -- are defined by giving their citizens a chance to go to the polls. To lay the foundations of a true liberal democracy in Egypt, President Obama must call upon Egypt's current and future leaders to embrace three specific reforms:
- Egypt must adopt a system of free, fair, open, competitive, and periodic elections;
- Egypt's new political system must be based on the rule of law, highlighted by an independent judiciary that preserves a system of checks and balances and an apolitical military, under civilian control, that promptly returns to the barracks once the transition is completed; and
- Egypt's new constitution must guarantee the fundamental freedoms and human rights of Egyptian citizens, not least of which should be the freedoms of speech, the press, and assembly, as well as civil liberties, due processes, and minority protections.
It is also imperative that President Obama speak directly to Egyptians and remind them that, while his administration supports them unequivocally and wholeheartedly, the transition they seek requires an important sacrifice from them as well: patience. So long as the military is working in good faith to implement democratic reforms, civil society should provide the breathing room needed to help Egypt reach the next phase of its evolution.
In return for genuine strides toward democracy, the U.S. should put together an emergency assistance program that sends not only financial aid but also offers the international community's best and brightest in the area of civic development to help Egyptians draft a new constitution and design a new state -- one that is of the Egyptian people, by the Egyptian people, and for the Egyptian people.
When it comes to democracy, America is proud to be a "shining city upon a hill." The time has come to shine that light toward Egypt and welcome it into the free world.