Assessing the situation in a nascent democracy, such as what I saw last week in Egypt, is difficult.
There's a temptation to compare our own civil society with a country struggling to establish democratic institutions two years after a revolution. The legitimacy of our civil society keeps voters returning to the polls and accepting election outcomes. We're still experimenting with our system as we adapt to changing conditions.
However, those constant tweaks are nothing compared with the challenges facing Egypt. One clear example is the Egyptian constitution. It exists as a written document, but is sharply criticized by many, and the judicial review of it has also been questioned. Another example is the situation in Parliament where the Upper Chamber ( Shura ) is the governing legislative body at the moment.
Egypt's major problems are economic and political. If the country's leadership gets the politics right the economic solutions would come more quickly. There's an economic collapse around the bend that won't be a total meltdown. However, it will most likely de-stabilize the current regime. Therefore, get ready for Revolution II.
There are too many elements pointing toward the end of economic viability: high inflation, low productivity, growing unemployment, no reserves, long lines for fuel, rising prices for staples, out-migration of industrialists, more weapons, militias. The country is essentially broke and the clock is ticking.
A fuse has been lit and I can't say with certainty how long it will take to reach the dynamite. Linking the economic crisis to the energy crisis means the fuse isn't more than three months long. There's a large segment of the population that doesn't eat meat and is eating less bread and protein. There are 10 -12 slums in Cairo alone and nutrition is an issue. The upper class is not suffering in that way but the expected electricity blackouts won't be welcome by anybody.
The likely scenario is that Revolution II will be more violent as opponents clash on the streets with stored weapons. The police will likely be ineffective in dampening the violence so the military will assume control and restore order.
It must be understood that the military in Egypt is highly respected and doesn't want to govern. If it takes the reins as many expect, it will be temporary and welcomed. Their ability to govern and manage the country's affairs are far superior to the Muslim Brotherhood. They would likely form a coordinating council made up of diverse political parties and stakeholders including the Muslim Brotherhood. Revolution II could lead to a constitution that is accepted and respected. Elections would follow where outcomes are deemed legitimate and the democratic society could grow from there.
The Morsi regime talks of conducting elections in the near term, but I doubt constitutional reforms will please opponents who feel frozen out of the process. This will lead to cascading events prompted by the economic situation.
Last week's "people to people" program was fascinating in receiving a snapshot of rising tensions inside an important ally of the United States.
Democracy is hard work. We're still at it in the U.S. and our important ally, Egypt, is beginning the journey.
The U.S. is being charged with intervening too much and accused of intervening too little during this sensitive stage in post-revolution Egypt. Whatever form of democracy emerges will be created based on the culture, diversity, youth and vision of Egyptians - as it should be.
In this scenario the Mubaruk political forces, which have sat on the sidelines for obvious reasons, could re-emerge with money and power adding more diversity to the reconstituted elected bodies.
Former U.S. Rep. Larry LaRocco of Idaho was in Egypt last week as part of a professional fellows program, sponsored by the State Department and Legacy International, which aims to strengthen the legislative and policymaking processes in Egypt and other countries.