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Egypt’s revolution searching for its path

The transition from a neoliberal comprador police state to a democratic welfare state is a momentous task that demands calm and tactful collective effort

Abdul Ilah Albayaty, Hana Al Bayaty and Ian Douglas, Sunday 29 Jan 2012
Views: 3486
Views: 3486

On 10 February 2011, in our article “Egypt: Only Democracy is Legitimate,” we tried to seize the characteristics of the then ongoing revolution. Now, a parliament with legislative powers has begun its work. This is the first step for democracy, which should be followed by others. The democratic revolution of 25 January will continue legitimately until a civil democratic welfare state is built. The Arab world needs democracy so that the people can manage their states efficiently and peacefully. It is only through democracy that the state can intervene, not only in creating the best infrastructure for the private and public sector to develop, but also to prevent capital from controlling the state, and to allow the state to direct public resources towards the fair redistribution of revenues. The new elected parliament in Egypt has the necessary task of changing the failed neoliberal model of a police state governed by a family for the benefits of foreign powers, capital and a comprador class — one that lives not off development but from different kinds of rent — into a democratic welfare state. It is a great task that should be accomplished with tact and with the support and comprehension of all economic actors,including the private sector,so as to avoid chaos or paralysis.

Social justice shouldn’t mean only ensuring the necessary better revenues for all, as this alone would result, among other things, in inflation. It should be simultaneously inciting better and larger production. The first urgent necessity is to attempt to ensure food security in the country. The agriculture and alimentary industry should be intensively and extensively developed. To avoid inflation, aid should be better directed to the producer, so as to incite him to improve his production and not only the product. The same thing applies to other sectors, including construction, transport, energy, health, family, education, jobs, training, the unemployed and the elderly.Aid to the person gives state administration the possibility of distributing revenues according to income, of selecting the products that should be incited to be produced, and to redistribute revenues and augment production without creating inflation and black markets.Deputies should urge the government, specialists and economists to put forward plans so that all families have a revenue, and at the same time that jobs can be created, production increased, monopolies and sources of black markets and corruption suppressed, competitiveness enhanced, the environment protected, administration and public services reformed and the budget balanced by reducing the deficit and public debts through improved commerce and real development. All Arab countries have a high potential for development. They have an abundance of factors of production that could be mobilised individually and collectively. It suffices to be mobilised rationally for the benefit of all, not only the few.

Social justice programmes cannot be achieved but through legitimate, democratic, stable institutions of the state. The base of any democracy is a free individual, woman and man, and a free citizen, woman and man. International human rights standards and treaties should be ratified and applied. The legislature should ensure that state institutions apply these standards. The state is the state of all Egyptians. Public interest is imperative. Nothing in its laws, structures, procedures, and the behaviour of its agents, should serve — or show any form of discrimination against — any particular individual, group, or ideology, even if initiated by the government in the name of the majority. Special attention should be directed to the physical and moral integrity and dignity of citizens, especially women, minorities and children, to be guaranteed and applied by all state institutions.

Arab regimes are late in the process of democratisation in the world. One of the reasons is the role played by the big powers in supporting non-democratic regimes during their Cold War: for the West, dictatorial comprador regimes; for the East, one-party regimes. While democracy is a system by which society directs its public affairs, the end of the Cold War didn’t end the culture that accompanied it. The pro-Westerns limited their criticism of dictatorial regimes and demand for change by beginning a shy criticism of regimes based on the necessity of individual liberties in individual life without criticising the neoliberal globalised structure and the comprador class enforcing and profiting from it, while the leftists continue to see and think of revolution as a putsch of an avant-garde group establishing the dictatorship of workers and poor peasants as a way to suppress the State: their model is The State and the Revolution of Lenin. American culture is a liberal ideology of less state; the leftists adopted the ideology of one party that leads the state and society. Although world political culture abandoned both neoliberalism and putschism, these two cultures continue to have their avant-gardism in the Arab world.

In Egypt, this is expressed by two positions. The first is the insistence on transferring power to some liberals before any election or constitution. The second is to consider elections as a non-event. Between these, there are reasonable positions held by varied political actors. The first is the position supporting the drafting of a constitution first. Since de Tocqueville’s On Democracy in America, political science knows the danger of a state without recognised values or a constitution that limits the risk of the dictatorship of the majority vote. The constitution is a social pact to live and manage public affairs peacefully together. In a democratic state, non-respect of the constitution in decisions is considered a putsch, even if voted by a majority. The second legitimate position is that it is the elected assembly that should draft the constitution. This position is legitimate because a constitution is not given to the people but written by the people. Although there was the suspicion that religious parties wanted to impose a religious state, agreement on the Al-Azhar Document lifted this suspicion. The third is the position of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), expressed on 23 July, in the constitutional declaration, and in the roadmap for transferring power to an elected president.

The problem with the avant-gardists is that they take their legitimacy from themselves while the only legitimacy in a democratic state is the legitimacy borne from elections. Many things limit even this legitimacy. The first is the constitution, which should contain all kind of limitations to guarantee equality among citizens and prevent the dictatorship of the majority. The legitimacy of the legislative branch is also limited by time. The legislature should be re-elected periodically. Electing a deputy is not giving them the absolute power to decide everything in the life of electors. It is only delegating to them while keeping the right to pull from them their powers, in the next elections and even before. The third limitation comes from the impossibility for the legislative and executive branches to direct social life in its detail. From this springs the role of the media, expressions of public opinion such as demonstrations, strikes, art, expert research, publications and statements, universities and research centres, freetrade unions, local elections and institutions, and specialised non-governmental associations. The fourth limitation comes from the several other elected bodies: the senate, the president and local administration. Each has its prerogative and legitimacy. The fifth limitation is the institutions of the state and its cultural heritage, because laws even voted will not be enforced efficiently without their acceptance and the possibility that the institutions concerned have faith in them. The opposite is a crisis in the work of the administration that should be addressed.

One problem in the thinking of the avant-gardists is the idea that the revolution is one act to install on the top of the state people that issue revolutionary laws. These laws would have no effect if not supported by the people. Society and the state apparatus and the country’s geopolitical relations make this thinking subjective, impossible to realise and in some aspects dangerous, even if it springs from a real thirst for liberty and progressive aspirations. In Egypt, in their slogans against SCAF, the avant-gardists didn’t present a workable alternative. All society appreciates their role in sparking the January 25 Revolution, but their slogans are seen as harmful, as the elections proved. Happily after one year, most of the youth have abandoned putschism and return to affirming, in group work and outlook, the importance of peaceful change, preparing already for future elections, after the success of the recent elections. No one can deny them this right and appreciated role, or attack it.

In a democratic state no group has a special political privilege. But in all states, democratic or not, the armed forces have a special functioning different from other institutions of the state. In all Third World countries, as in some capitalist countries, the military draft was not only to ensure capacity to face war, but also to develop strategic research and studies, industrial and civil infrastructure, train workers, to administer the public sector and to guarantee enforcement of the law and a civil state. It is to the constitution to decide, calmly and scientifically, the way the army works as an institution of the state, without harming national security and the national economy. In this domain we can say that as Egypt is targeted as a power, despite the absence of a state of war, the army should be prepared to defend national security in all domains of the state. Egypt is not living in a peaceful environment so as to reveal its military plans and budget publicly, although these plans and budget should be inspected and ratified by the deputies of the people.

A heavy responsibility lies on the shoulders of political groups, the elected of the people, and the government of Egypt. The more rapidly and transparently they apply necessary changes, the more the future of Egypt will shine. We are sure the love of the people of Egypt for their country and their confidence in its capacity will make this heavy task easier.

Abdul Ilah Albayaty is an Iraqi political analyst. Hana Al Bayaty is an author and political activist. Dr Ian Douglas is a specialist in the geopolitics of the Arab region and has taught at universities in the US, UK, Egypt and Palestine.

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