Babylon & Beyond

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EGYPT: Time to get down to the nuts and bolts of democracy, analyst urges

February 19, 2011 |  8:08 am

[Editor's note: Analysts at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace are among the 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.]

Carnegie logo Now that President Mubarak has stepped down, Egypt has entered a transitional phase led by the military. Egyptians are looking to establish a democracy and this exceptional moment offers a chance for comprehensive political change that will affect not only Egypt but also the rest of the Arab world.

Egyptians’ first responsibility is to fully participate in this transitional phase. People need to act alongside the military, not against it. Citizens are critical for ensuring a democratic transformation and the emergence of a society based on equal opportunity and social justice. The revolution owed its legitimacy to its popular support and now the popular will must be used in new political, legal and constitutional contexts.

To do this, Egypt needs a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution that does not give a president limitless powers, as the current constitution does. A parliamentary regime is preferable as it is the best suited type of government for guaranteeing that various forces are represented. Egypt suffered from a frightening advance of executive authority since the revolution in 1952, and a parliamentary system would help ensure that legislative and judicial authorities have the much-needed powers to safeguard from a repeated encroachment.

The civil nature of the state and politics in Egypt also needs to be affirmed in a new constitution. This needs to be distinct from militarized or religious politics. The current constitution’s second article refers to Sharia Law as a basic source for legislation and this should be looked at again. A detailed reexamination will help move the country toward complete constitutional equality — for both Muslims and Christians.

The military made the right move in dissolving parliament, as it was formed after illegitimate elections. New elections should be held after the electoral system is amended so Egypt can progress toward a proportional list system. And effective judicial supervision needs to be established for elections to proceed fairly. To ensure free elections, there should be domestic and international supervision and the Interior Ministry must be distanced from the electoral process. On top of this, ill-reputed laws such as the Emergency Law and the Parties Law need to be removed, the commissions related to them must be abolished, and political parties need to be allowed to obtain licenses via declaration.

The current government should also be dismissed in favor of a national salvation government made up of technocrats and independent experts who will administer the transition together with the armed forces. And the ruling National Democratic Party — which is staffed by corrupt businessmen and thugs and has promoted the hereditary transmission of power — must be dissolved and expelled from political life.

Finally, after the new constitution is drafted, Egyptians need a specific time frame for the transition — this phase will end with presidential and parliamentary elections. Six months should be a sufficient amount of time to administer the transition and thus establish a new Egypt with a parliamentary democratic regime. At this point the military can leave the political landscape after it successfully watched over a successful move to democracy.

-- Amr Hamzawy

Photo: Egyptian demonstrators rally as soldiers watch in Cairo on Feb. 1. Credit: Patrick Bazi / AFP/Getty Images