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National salvation government for Egypt's January revolution

The ruling military council should hand the political burden of navigating Egypt's transition to democracy to a broad based national salvation government

Taha Abdel Alim , Saturday 3 Dec 2011
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The use of excess force to end the sit-in by the victims of the January 25 Revolution and continuing the policy of cracking down on protestors and freedom of expression, added to disrespect for dignity, were triggers of the November uprising. But the key behind the uprising is a lack of understanding on the part of authorities that revolution — any revolution — means that the people no longer accept to be ruled and have their affairs managed through the failed practices of the regime they rose against.

The powers that be cannot rule and run the country using the practices of the regime whose legitimacy collapsed through revolution. As a result of this state of denial, the January revolution began slipping down the road of regrets, and hence the November uprising took place in the hope to salvage and correct this path.

In order for the promise of revolution to be fulfilled, there must be a new way of managing the transitional process to overcome its shortcomings. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took over political leadership when Mubarak stepped down from power, and with the blessing of the people and the revolutionaries, because it said it championed the will of the people by refusing to shoot at the revolutionaries, and because of the absence of a leadership for the revolution that the people could agree on unanimously.

Now, following November's events, SCAF apologised for the deaths caused and promised to quickly and resolutely investigate the incident to bring to justice anyone responsible. But the news conference that followed pre-empted the outcome of the investigation by saying that the police were acting in self-defence and used less force than the law permits. Instead, it should have been unequivocally condemned for using excessive and illegal force, and an unreasonable use of its right in ending a peaceful sit-in and protest in a brutal and treacherous manner.

Field Marshal Tantawi’s statement on the eve of the million-strong protest to “rescue the nation” was responsive to demands to fire Essam Sharaf’s cabinet and for holding presidential elections before the end of June, as well as holding parliamentary elections on time. I do not doubt SCAF’s assertion that it “is only concerned about the interests of the nation and does not wish to remain in power,” but choosing Kamal El-Ganzouri as the next prime minister — which by no means detracts from his skill and integrity — was rejected by those who are calling for a national salvation government that is mindful of current conditions and knows what needs to be done in the wake of the January revolution. Also, one that is supported by the majority of the people and has earned the confidence of the revolutionary youth, as well as having an executive mandate to manage the political process and lay down the foundation of a new system.

Denying the need to reschedule parliamentary elections — although they, and presidential elections, should be held within the declared timeline — ignored political tensions and unstable security conditions that would result in lower voter turnout out of fear or frustration, and a lack of confidence in honest and secure elections against a backdrop of a sacked cabinet and hostile security apparatus. The decision enforced speculation that SCAF is not taking a neutral position towards all political forces, because it did not take into consideration that there are political forces and parties that had suspended their election campaigns in defense of dignity, freedom and revolution for Egyptians. Instead, it pandered to those who seek to hijack the next parliament and the writing of the constitution. It also benefited those who are subject to the belated political corruption law.

There are fears that the revolution will be hijacked; Egypt and Egyptians will continue to be ruled, the elections will be held and the constitution written in the same fashion as during the previous regime. This would reinforce motives for political struggle, the lack of security and the economic crisis. There is also anger that state institutions have not been purged of the corrupt and inept, and security has not been restored by going after the money sources behind thugs and restructuring the Ministry of Interior. At the same time, legitimate economic and social demands of the poor and low-income sectors are ignored, although they could easily be met.

Meanwhile, civilians who were sentenced in military tribunals are not being transferred to civilian courts for retrial, and swift justice has not been meted out against those responsible for the killing, injuring and targeting Egyptians, and crushing them with brutality and treacherously.

No doubt, the armed forces was able to successfully protect the country from collapse, but instead of a referendum that will cause rifts, waste time and compound suffering, political wisdom, national interests and the stature of SCAF dictate that it should free itself to carry out its herculean patriotic mission of defending Egypt, protecting its national security and restoring security for the people. Also, to transfer political leadership during the interim period to a national salvation government that can shoulder the responsibility of building the foundations of a new regime that is attentive to — and will only heed — the goals of the revolution.

 

It would do this by building a nation of co-citizenship for all its citizens; one that enforces national sovereignty in order for Egypt to be for all Egyptians; one that upholds all political, civic, economic, social, human, cultural and religious rights without discrimination or marginalisation or exclusion. Not heeding that “co-existence is the solution” was a serious failure during the interim phase between the glorious January 25 Revolution and the ongoing November uprising.

In order to overcome these mistakes, we must resolve all the reasons for disorder and lack of security by forming the strongest consensus government possible and rebuilding confidence in interim powers. Also, by truly understanding the meaning of revolution, forming a collective leadership for the revolution, and not adopting risky slogans or positions. Meanwhile, meeting all possible economic demands, as well as purging and overhauling the Ministry of Interior so it serves the people.

At the same time, pursuing those funding the thugs, confronting saboteurs opposed to the January 25 Revolution, enforcing political corruption laws and silencing religious and sectarian rhetoric. Also, increasing the freedoms of a responsible press and media to professionally cover events through unbiased presentation of opinion, broadcasting documented information, enlightening views, and confronting foreign conspiracies that undermine the revolution.

The national salvation government must realise that the strikes and protests in “specific sectors” that are making legitimate demands and causing havoc are an expression of the social dimension of the January 25 Revolution that released accumulated pre-revolution grievances with very high expectations. While it is true that there are some “sector” demands that are unreasonable, there are others that can and must be addressed immediately. There is also abject poverty that requires applying a minimum wage now to ensure minimal human sustenance. The national salvation government must earn the confidence of the nation and possess a comprehensive outlook, roadmap and action plan.

It must present a political discourse that convinces the nation that achieving economic and social co-citizenship rights would be impossible without building a new regime that would ensure proper use of resources and a commitment to fair distribution of income. Never has, nor will, “the fruit of development trickle down” to the poor in Egypt, or anywhere else. The state must thwart speculators, monopolisers and the corrupt, and change economic policies that have made the poor poorer and the rich richer. Capitalism must renounce the privatisation of profits while distributing losses among everyone, and shoulder its social and national responsibility.

Political forces and the salvation government must continue a serious political dialogue to build national consensus on the criteria for choosing members of the constituent assembly for the constitution through an elected parliament and president. It should be a sample of all the nation’s constituents, forces and trends, because the constitution cannot be written by today’s majority and then be replaced by tomorrow’s majority.

This dialogue should be based on Al-Azhar’s initiative, the proposal by the Democratic Alliance, and other suggestions, in order to reach consensus on the principles of the constitution of steadfastly upholding human rights and co-citizenship. At the same time, no institution would be above or have power over constitutional institutions. This would be enough to prevent the country from splintering once again when the constitution is being drafted after the elections, and would speed up building a new regime without wasting time or entailing high costs.

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