07/17/2013 11:56 am ET Updated Sep 16, 2013

How Egyptians Can Save Egypt

For those of us who have lived through military dictatorships, we always dread military coups and their rule. Growing up in Nigeria, I lived through the military administrations of General Olusegun Obasanjo (1976-1979), General Muhammadu Buhari (1983-1985), General Ibrahim Babangida (1985-1993), General Sani Abacha (1993-1998), and General Abdulsalami Abubakar (1998-1999). During these years, Nigeria experienced massive corruption, the destruction of a once promising African economy, the silence of opposition and the press, extrajudicial killings and simply a reign of terror. Having lived through these years, I would never wish them on anyone. A week before the military took over in Egypt, I had rightly predicted to some of my friends that the demonstrations and breakdown of law and order in Egypt would give rise to a military coup. I have seen this play out so many times that I could predict accurately what was going to happen. The difference in Egypt is that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi did not assume power himself but delegated it to Adly Mansour who was only two days old as the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court. Since then, there have been massive demonstrations throughout Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood want power to be returned to former President Morsi and other Egyptians are demonstrating in support of the new temporary administration of Mansour. Where does Egypt go from here?

Egypt is an important country in the Middle East that needs to be stable. Whatever happens in Egypt has the potential to further destabilize a region that is already in crisis. The Muslim Brotherhood formed a political party, the Freedom and Justice Party, and contested the presidential elections thereby reneging on the promise not to field a candidate for this election. After an underwhelming victory of their candidate, President Morsi, winning by only 3.5 percentage points in a runoff election, the Brotherhood went ahead to institute reforms that marginalized a vast number of Egyptians. This overreach gave rise to a coalition of radical Islamists, Christian groups and liberal/ progressive groups. It is this strong coalition that led to the ouster of Morsi. The question has been, was this a coup or not? It is a matter of semantics. The truth is that an elected government was removed from an office by the military. It does not matter if this was done as a result of the will of the people. In a civil democracy, the coalition for change should have waited until the next elections and then voted en masse to take back power from the Muslim Brotherhood.

All hopes are not yet lost. President Mansour has laid out an election timetable. Instead of Egyptians remaining on the streets and demonstrating, they must now save Egypt by leaving the streets and engaging in the democratic process. Mansour must use his authority to conduct elections that truly represent the will of the people. There is no successful democracy in which the winner takes all. No nation is a monolithic block. Every nation is comprised of people with ideological, religious, gender, ethnic, and socio-economic differences. A true democracy must represent these differences. What Egypt needs is a unity government that serves all Egyptian people and not only a narrow few. Though Mansour is an accidental president, his legacy will be constructed on whether or not he was able to lead Egyptians towards the writing and adoption of a new modern constitution that guarantees all Egyptians basic human rights. Egyptians will also forever remember him if he is able to conduct free and fair elections and hand over power to a unity government within a year.