Democracy is (still) the solution

 
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By Khaled Diab

In Egypt, neither Islamism nor jingoism is the solution. We need is a visionary founding document, and the stillborn 1954 constitution fits the bill.

Saturday 3 August 2013

It is a sign of just how awry the situation has become this past week that al-Gama’a al-Islamiya actually sounds like one of the more sensible players on the political stage. The group said the very preservation of the state depended on genuine reconciliation based on respect of the constitution and legitimacy.

Despite al-Gama’a’s continued belief in Shari’a as a “complete and perfect” system, this moderate, conciliatory message is a far cry from the 1990s when the organisation was engaged in a violent insurgency aimed at destroying the state. This included the assassination of leading secular intellectual Farag Foda and the 1997 Luxor massacre.

Meanwhile, the state which al-Gama’a failed to destroy seems strangely fixated on self-destruction, or at the very least implosion, while the Muslim Brotherhood, from which al-Gama’a split away because the former abandoned violence, is ratcheting up its inflammatory rhetoric and refuses any dialogue or compromise. Likewise, the army has been doing its own inciting and engaging in evermore violent crackdowns against supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi.

Last week, General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, dressed in the ultimate dictator chic of sunglasses and full military regalia, urged people to take to the streets on Friday to give the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), chillingly, a “mandate” to “face possible violence and terrorism.”

Though shocking, it is not so surprising that a military man should think that a political problem can be resolved by force of arms. But if history and common sense teach us anything it is that words cannot be fought with swords; you can only combat ideas with ideas.

Sure, if some extremists resort to violence, then they should be handled with reasonable force to protect other civilians and society. However, if the ideology that led them to take up arms is not engaged  with and challenged effectively, and the root causes tackled, then the idea will live on and mutate, even if some of its advocates are imprisoned or killed.

That is why it is so worrying and terrifying that many otherwise sensible and intelligent people responded to Al-Sisi’s call. It is also disappointing that some movements that stood up to Morsi’s bullying and tyranny have decided, at least for now, to throw in their lot with the freedom-loathing military.

Take Tamarod. After employing admirably peaceful and democratic means in its grassroots campaign against the ousted president, which saw the rebel movement collect 22 million signatures on a petition calling for Morsi’s departure, it urged people to show their support for al-Sisi. “We call on the people to take to the streets on Friday to support their armed forces… in confronting the violence and terrorism practised by the Muslim Brotherhood,” Tamarod leader Mahmoud Badr was quoted as saying.

There is certainly a lot wrong with the Brotherhood and other Morsi supporters, but accusing them of “terrorism” is disingenuous, to say the least. Yes, a minority has committed acts of violence, but for the most part, the protests have been peaceful. Besides, playing the terrorism card , which comes straight out of the neo-conservative and Mubarak handbook, only fuels demonisation and leads to escalation.

Regardless of what wrongs the Brotherhood as an organisation may or may not have committed, the truth of the matter is the killing of unarmed civilians, as occurred during the massacre on Saturday, will not only do nothing to combat terrorism, in many definitions of the term, it counts as an act of state-sanctioned terror.

Luckily, a growing number of voices are rising up against the din of jingoistic nationalism to say neither the military nor the Brotherhood, neither Morsi nor al-Sisi. There are early signs that some in the anti-Brotherhood camp are already regretting and questioning their support of the military they had opposed so hard, and to such cost, during the first transition.

Even Tamarod is taking small steps in that direction. On Sunday, the movement voiced alarm at Saturday’s massacre. “Our campaign supports the state’s plans in fighting terrorism; however, we have earlier stressed that this support doesn’t include the taking of extraordinary measures, or the contradiction of freedoms and human rights,” Badr said.

It won’t be long, I hope, before it dawns on Tamarod that a so-called “war on terror” cannot be waged, as George W Bush demonstrated so decisively, without undermining freedoms and human rights. This can be seen in how the Ministry of the Interior, probably with SCAF’s blessing, has reinstated state security departments ostensibly tasked with combating extremism and monitoring political activity.

This Orwellian apparatus was shut down thanks to the 2011 revolution and, unsurprisingly, Tamarod has rejected this “return of Mubarak’s state security.” And herein lies the rub: Mubarak, Field Marshal Tantawi, Morsi and now Sisi are all cut out of the same authoritarian cloth.

Morsi, the Brotherhood and the Islamists proved conclusively that Islamism is not the solution. Pretty soon, people will wake up to the realisation (yet again) that al-Sisi and the SCAF are definitely not the answer.

What we need is a third way in which religion is for the individual, the army is for defence against foreign aggression and the nation is for everyone: secularists and Islamists, young and old, women and men, rich and poor.

One effective, potent and highly symbolic way to achieve this is to revive the stillborn 1954 draft constitution, which lay forgotten and collecting dust for decades in the basement of the Arab League.

Showing remarkable foresight of the dangers ahead, it set out to craft Egypt as a parliamentary democracy, which would’ve prevented the presidency from accumulating the arbitrary powers it now enjoys. It is also full of progressive ideals, including “absolute freedom of belief”, freedom of expression, labour rights, women’s rights, social justice and solidarity, including with foreigners who do not enjoy the same rights in their home countries.

Had this constitution become the republic’s founding document, Egypt today would have been a very different, and much better place. Adopting it, albeit belatedly, can help Egypt become that better place by laying the foundations for true equality.

___

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in The Daily News Egypt on 30 July 2013.

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  • Gihan

    Excellent article,thanks Khaled

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  • Tanya

    Wonderful piece, Khaled.

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  • Steve

    Interesting. I really like 1 & 2. What is the difference between a federated council and THE state? It seems to me a national defense and infrastructure attention require large organisms to regulate and oversee important issues such as the awarding of contracts and the oversight of the construction of things like buildings and bridges. These arguments, for the record (minus 1 & 2) appear in the US at a reasonable clip.

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  • Abraham

    The alternative in direct democracy requires; 1) the revocability of delegates to any political body, 2) proportional delegations for the various social formations (women, national minorities), 3) National-Cultural Autonomy, 4) a federated council and not a State, 4) the end of the Nation-State, etcetra.

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  • Steve

    Parties are also the degeneration of the original concept. But at their best, they form a dialectic – something always good for discovery and education. The unwillingness to compromise currently is the largest enemy of democracy – it’s blasphemy really.

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  • Abraham

    That is only the beginning of the problems inherent in representative democracy; representation is generally by party formations so what you have is party democracy with loyalty to the party and not the people by the representative.

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  • Steve

    There are so many failed examples of representative democracy these days – honestly, the money and the overall legal corruption has torn it apart in everyone;s perceptions, which is way too bad. Unfortunately, in the end, a citizenry is still responisible for this failure. IN a rep democracy at least you know who to blame.

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  • Steve

    And the alternative? By the way, I’m not entirely sure I agree. You really can’t be re-elected if you blow it for your consituents…….supposedly, lol, at least.

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  • Abraham

    No. Representative democracy only selects one who will decide in place of the people not on behalf of the people. Once elected the ‘representative’ is not required to continue with the promises with whihc they were elected, they can vote against the very mandate upon which they were elected.

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  • Steve

    What is the difference? In fact, when on Earth does a man’s vote matter less in ANY form of democracy? Isn’t the vote the single most sacrosanct element of a democracy? Are you advocating running a government by daily vote from a TV or computer? That could be interesting, actually.

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  • Abraham

    The whole point of the June 30th movement was that representative democracy does not work and that direct democracy is necessary. Now it has the task of continuing the revolution against the military by means of the Constituent Assembly.

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  • Erwin

    Why do I get visions of Romy Schneider?…http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B_2ZUoC9jDI

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  • Steve

    It seems strange to have to spell out the benefits of a secular Constitution, based on representative democracy, inbuilt checks and balances and Reason. The machines of government have precedents which actually work.

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