This comment was published in The Washington Post on 5/11/2010
In many respects, Egypt is a different country from the one it was five years ago.
Unfortunately, the narrative in Washington's policy community has yet to reflect that. Western observers ritually point out the imperfections in our political system - many of which we acknowledge and openly debate. The fact that Egyptians are having open discussions about the upcoming elections, government performance, poverty and even the president is proof of a healthy political space. Moreover, for all the speculation about the leadership transition, the Egyptian constitution defines a precise framework for presidential elections, which are open to any political party that has at least one seat in Parliament. At no time in its modern history has Egypt faced a crisis of transition.
The National Democratic Party, to which I belong, will seek a renewed mandate for change through these elections. We believe ours is the only party with the vision and the track record to bring continuing prosperity and growth to Egypt.
The main alternative to our vision is offered by those who would steer the country away from economic liberalism, religious tolerance and social progress and toward greater fundamentalism, eventually creating a religious state in a country that has always embraced diversity. Imagine for a moment an Egypt in the hands of fundamentalist mullahs, fomenting instability and allied with rogue regimes.
As a member of Egypt's Christian community - the largest in the Middle East - I know all too well the dangers of religious intolerance. As finance minister, I recognize the imperative of change in the face of entrenched interests. And as an elected member of Parliament I have come to realize that change without home-grown political support is unsustainable.
Our vision for Egypt is of a modern civil state based on equality, religious tolerance and a free-market economy. Prosperity and better education can drive peaceful political change, which we hope will in turn revive a multiparty system that has unfortunately withered somewhat in recent years. The choice should not just be between the National Democratic Party and the fundamentalists. There must be room for vibrant secular alternatives.
American assistance to Egypt over the past 30 years has played a vital role in building a free-market economy. As Egypt's economy has grown, the relationship has shifted from one based on economic aid - now less than $200 million annually - to one based on trade and investment.
Egypt has long been a regional trendsetter. Ours is the largest country in the Arab world; transforming Egypt's economy will generate prosperity and stability throughout the region and provide a bulwark against extremism. In the end, an economically developed and politically stable Egypt will improve America's security and help to create the foundations of a prosperous and stable Middle East.