Egypt’s Potential for True Democracy
By Nile El Wardani
Every day the power of the Egyptian people is proven again. Today they are en mass, yet again, calling for the military to step down. Recently, an Egyptian court suspended the Constitution Committee after more than 20 members withdrew. It was clear that the court responded to popular pressure and discontent that Islamists had an unfairly large representation. A broad spectrum of Egyptians argued that the committee ran contrary to the essence of a constitution-writing process.
As long as the Egyptian people continue to raise their voices in protest—day by day—they can and will succeed in ushering in a new democratic Egypt. What can and should be done now?
Egyptians rallying for democracy
Step One: Stop the presidential elections by any means. Do not allow the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) to ram it through. Now is not the time. There cannot be an election prior to a new Constitution.
Step Two: A court investigation focusing on the parliament’s decision to appoint 50 members of parliament and 50 outside representatives to the Constitution committee.
Step Three: Parliament must set up new specifications for a Constitution committee that reflects the diversity of Egypt’s population.
Step Four: These specifications for the make up of a Constitution committee should be ratified by the Egyptian people in a referendum.
Ironically it was Khairat Al Shater, the presidential candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood who tweeted “Egypt needs to establish a constitution for a modern, democratic state and pave the way to the country’s renaissance.”
Importantly, the new constitution will establish the powers of the branches of government, enshrine the rights of all Egyptians and determine the relationship between the state and its religious institutions. And yet, the new constitution can do even more.
The dynamic revolution that began in Egypt over a year ago has not only put us in the world’s spotlight but has thrown the gates wide open to unprecedented opportunities for democratic change in Egypt. Egyptians have the possibility of drawing from the best examples worldwide while avoiding the horrendous pitfalls that have undermined democracy in other countries.
As an Egyptian citizen, I have high hopes that Egypt will draw from these lessons. As an American citizen, I hope that Egyptians will heed this warning: do not replicate American pitfalls. The message is simple.
Step Five: Draw up a Constitution that will also address the electoral processes. A well-written Constitution will not allow for money and media to take over politics and in turn dictate who will rule Egypt. It must include specifications for an electoral system of rules and regulations that will not allow for the erosion of democracy that we are witnessing in America today. This election season American presidential candidates will spend $800M to $1 billion and campaign for nearly two years. Both the lengthy process and the huge sums of money have undermined democracy substantially. America is a plutocracy; a government governed by the wealthy.
America desperately needs campaign finance reform and more, if it is to return to democracy. Egypt must draw from these lessons and implement them now, via a new Constitution, well before Presidential elections take place. There is much that can be done to produce an equal playing field for all candidates, real transparency, wider civil participation, rule of law, and greater democracy overall.
Egypt Can Be More Democratic Than America
Egypt has the unprecedented opportunity of crafting the best possible Constitution that will incorporate lessons learned throughout the world. The people must continue to rise up against the SCAF and demand an interim civilian government and the time to draw up a new Constitution. This opportunity must not be lost. The next president of Egypt will serve for only eight years, while a well-crafted Constitution will serve Egypt for generations to come. It is therefore imperative that the Constitution be written and crafted before the presidential election. It must include what we Americans wish we could have through a much need electoral reform. There are many examples of countries that have incorporated democratic processes that assure greater equality amongst candidates.
A new Egyptian Constitution should stipulate these and more:
• The presidential campaign season must be limited to only three months and tightly regulated by a National Election Commission.
• No fundraising, advertising, mailings, debates or promotional activities can take place outside this three-month time frame. This must also be tightly regulated by the Election Commission.
• No corporation, special interest group, nor citizen can donate more than $100 to a candidate or a party during each campaign season.
• Each candidate and party will be limited to a set amount of money (determined by the Election Commission) to spend during a campaign season. This amount will be the same for each candidate running for the same elected position. This also must be tightly regulated.
• Each official candidate will have a specified number of free hours of media time to campaign and explain her/his policies, platform and promises. The number of free hours of media time will be the same for each candidate and no candidate can buy additional hours. This must be tightly regulated also.
• Egypt should choose an electoral process that is as democratic as possible. A simple majority win is not always the most democratic. For example, a Rank Order Electoral Process results in a consensus vote and a winner that is the most acceptable to the greatest number of people. This and other electoral processes must be considered by Egypt.
Egyptians have shown the world that they want democracy. This is Egypt’s unprecedented opportunity to usher in a new Constitution and an electoral process that can assure greater democracy than most countries in the world. This window of opportunity must not be lost to power-grabbing opportunists in Egypt who wish to push through a quick election in order to control the process and hang on to power.
Now is the time for all Egyptians to demand that a new Constitution and electoral process be ushered in before the presidential election. Shout it from your TV sets, your radios, write it in your papers and magazines, share it in your villages and hamlets, spread leaflets and announce it from your rooftops. The revolution must continue. It cannot be stolen by the SCAF. Now is the time to build a democratic Egypt for centuries to come.
Step Six: Conduct a truly democratic open and fair presidential election, as specified by the new Egyptian constitution.
Nile El Wardani, Ph.D. is an Egyptian American activist, radio host and writer based in Los Angeles. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A DIFFERENT IRAQ PERSPECTIVE
The Nation – Letters to the Editor
Naomi Klein wrote in her “Lookout” column “You Break It, You Pay for It” [Jan. 10/17]: “As for preventing ‘anarchy,’ the US plan to bring elections to Iraq seems designed to spark a civil war–the civil war needed to justify an ongoing presence for US troops no matter who wins the elections.”
I am an American, recently returned from the Middle East, where I met several of my Egyptian physician friends who have been working in Baghdad for a year and a half. There is a feeling and a belief in Iraq and the Middle East in general–which Klein and others are missing–that, yes indeed, the entire debacle in Iraq is designed to lead to a breakdown of the country and its eventual division into three separate countries, Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish. The purpose is to enable the United States to more easily control the resources (water, oil and land) by pitting one faction against another (divide and conquer, yet again) thereby insuring that Iraq will never regain the power it had under Saddam Hussein (when despite his despotism Iraq was highly industrialized, had the highest literacy rates and the most emancipated women in the region and was a secular state) or the power it had as the only member of OPEC that sold its petrol not in dollars but in euros.
More important, this is the belief of many Iraqis and others (Egyptians, Jordanians, Syrians, etc.) now living and working in Iraq. Whether this is truly the US “plan” or not, many in Iraq believe it to be true. Some say this division of the country will occur quite quickly, within two years, and they have little power to stop it from happening. They are sure of it. This is an Arab perspective that has not been brought forward in the Western press.
NILE EL WARDANI