Thursday, February 17, 2011

Hopes And Fears Of Egyptian Democracy

By Abdul Rahman al-Rahid
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 17/02/2011

Of course no one today dares reject the democratic trend in the Arab world or else he will be accused of heresy. And it is natural for the option of the Egyptians today to be the democratic option as a social contract by which to be governed. It is clear that they are agreed on this trend whether they are youths, political parties, former opposition groups, independent national figures, intellectuals, and simple citizens. Even the military proclaimed clearly that they are the supporters of democracy today and its guarantors tomorrow. Therefore, we are faced with the first popular consensus in the Arab world for democracy. Naturally, this is a reason for rejoicing because any form of governance that satisfies the majority and guarantees Egypt's stability is in the interest of the whole Arab world.
But as is often said: The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And there are many good intentions in the Al-Tahrir Square where the youths paid their blood for this goal. But is consensus enough to achieve this goal? There are more than 120 democratic states in the world less than half of which are democratic. The Arab world heard about democracy more than 50 years ago when it was sold to it as part of the false promises. However, the Arab world has not practiced democracy to this day. MThe Arabs experienced partial democracy in Kuwait, Morocco, Lebanon, and Jordan. It was a marriage between two systems: autocratic and democratic. What is painful is that the democratic part of it does not seem attractive, as is the case in Kuwait. In the name of the parliamentary majority, democracy was used to ban books, movie productions, and songs and to muzzle the mouths of some intellectuals. How can it be democratic while liberties are regressing from what they were in the past? The Egyptians should ask themselves this question. They are rushing to change the constitution in 10 days when the drafting of the constitution is the most important step in democracy. The blemishes of democracy may be found in the constitution. Because the constitution was not well drafted, liberties in Kuwait are being tightened under the dome of the parliament. In Lebanon, presidents are elected on the basis of proportions of the religious sects. This is the zenith of contradiction.
Because everyone in Egypt from the extreme right to the extreme left is agreed on the future system of governance - the democratic system - Egypt will be more than a test laboratory. It will be the judge. If it succeeds the idea prevails and if it fails the idea would be buried alive everywhere. The intellectuals and law experts should become familiar with the stumbling steps of Arab democracy where there is no protection of basic individual rights, no constitutional guarantees for freedoms, including freedom of expression, and no protection for the less fortunate, like women and minorities. I do not think that the youths of Al-Tahrir Square want tomorrow a democracy that closes institutions of learning, bans books, and makes women wear the veil by force in the name of the majority because the majority m ay make unjust decisions if there is no constitution protecting basic rights.

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