Babylon & Beyond

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EGYPT: Transition should put mechanisms and measures before personalities

February 28, 2011 |  8:09 am

Editor's note: Analysts at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace are included among contributors to Babylon & Beyond. Carnegie is renowned for its political, economic and social analysis of the Middle East. The views represented are the author's own.

Carnegie logo Many Egyptians are attempting to link the country’s decades-long crises of authoritarianism and corruption solely to the actions of former President Hosni Mubarak and those close to him. Simply expelling these individuals from political and social life will not build a democratic and transparent Egypt that combats corruption, however.

The institutions of authoritarianism — from security agencies to state media to judicial committees accustomed to doing the rulers’ bidding — are the very mechanisms that enabled Mubarak to remain in power for almost 30 years. Egyptians are incapable of achieving much progress if they cut short the work of democratic reform in constitutional and legal contexts and placate themselves with the legal pursuit of prominent corrupt figures.

Democracy, transparency and an anti-corruption approach can take root in sociopolitical life only through a long-term process of development. The key to this process is institutional reform that establishes the rule of law and guarantees balance and mutual oversight among the legislative, executive and judicial authorities. Such reform must consistently apply the legal and political principles of oversight and accountability to officials and must protect citizens’ rights and liberties.

As a result, Egyptians should focus on what kind of government to establish, whether a new constitution is needed, the role of the military, and how to manage and expand the national dialogue about the transitional and democratic stage, among other issues. A parliamentary republic that guarantees a full political life and limits the encroachment of the presidency and the executive authority on individual rights offers the best approach. This is why a new Egyptian constitution that establishes parliamentarianism is necessary.

In addition, an institution for national dialogue — representing all national forces, labor and professional syndicates, youth movements and civil society — should be formed to manage the transition alongside the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. This institution would precisely define mechanisms, measures and timing for the democratic transformation, ensuring that all citizens have a voice in the process.

Such issues warrant the public’s continued concern, and discussions must be intensified to prevent the Supreme Council from making every decision about the transition by itself and to guarantee citizens’ ability to help define the face of the new political regime.

Some have attempted to reduce this critical and complicated conversation to a discussion of potential candidates for the presidency, however. This gives the impression that a particular person is capable of delivering democracy to the country. But such talk only distracts public attention from the transition process and the challenges of democratic construction in Egypt. It is premature and pointless right now.

It’s worth noting that Mohammad ElBaradei — who has continually stressed the importance of achieving constitutional, political and institutional reform before thinking about possible candidates — announced he would not seek the job. By taking such a position, he served these democratic goals much more effectively than those who have declared already their desire to become president — and was in total harmony with the revolution’s legitimate demands. 

 -- Amar Hamzawy in Beirut

Hamzawy is research director at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut and spokesman for Egypt’s Committee of Wise Men, which has recommended specific policy changes for the country’s transition.