Good morning revolution: A to do list

Hani Shukrallah , Saturday 12 Feb 2011

The revolution has triumphed, but even as we celebrate, we need to begin at once with the most amazing job history has thrown our way, the building of an Egyptian democracy

Good morning
(Photo: Bassam Al-Zoghby)

Before trying to take all of it, or even just bits of it, in, and keeping, for the moment, a tight control over the need to express the sheer joy of it all, I believe we should urgently debate the most immediate tasks ahead. Here are some suggestions:

1. Don’t fight ghosts: The army is not about to seize political power, nor is there a threat of military rule. I understand the concern, but do not sympathize with the phobia. We should stop letting the ghosts of our past interfere with how we conceive of our present, and determine our future. Popular revolutions, I have written more than once over the past couple of weeks, do not result in military rule, coup d’états and counter-revolutions do. So let’s by all means not waste precious energy on fighting windmills. It’s civil, not military government that lies ahead; the point is to ensure that it will be one that is situated within a fully democratic political system.

2. End state of emergency: By the time this is posted, the state of emergency might have been lifted already. In any case, this is a top demand of the revolution, as well as a pledge of the military. There is absolutely no excuse for keeping the state of emergency a single minute longer. “Until the current circumstances are over”, does not hold water. Egypt’s revolution will go down in history as the most peaceful, non-violent and self-disciplined revolution the world has ever known. The violence is now clearly exposed as the product of the defunct regime. The state of emergency must be lifted TODAY.

3. Release political prisoners: The immediate release of all political prisoners, including all prisoners held without detention or trial under the provisions of the infamous emergency law. The argument that this will involve the release of possibly hundreds of militant Islamists, some of whom may have been involved in terrorist acts is groundless. We have every right to expect the Egyptian revolution to give an example to the world, including to Obama’s America itself. If they’re not held in strict accordance with due process, they should be released. A genuine democracy knows no exceptional circumstances, and a genuinely democratic society is able to deal with the consequences.

4. Prosecute police and NDP crimes and overhaul domestic security apparatus: Over the past two weeks we have seen what the internal security apparatus - allied to NDP top officials and oligarchs, and jointly running a huge network of criminal gangs – is capable of. Over the past 30 years, under the protection of a continuing state of emergency and the pretext of fighting terrorism, the domestic security apparatus has been brutalized and corrupted to such an extent, it is effectively a giant lawless militia, handing out torture, murder at will. We must not forget that the revolution was, in large part, triggered by the behavior of this apparatus, and has from the very start identified it as among its top targets, next only to the removal of the man who was responsible for its creation and operation. Moreover, during the past two weeks, this apparatus went rogue. We need not go back over the evidence, it is widely known, and I’ve expounded on it in previous articles, suffice it to say that the blood of over 300 martyrs continues to cry out for retribution. Nor is a democracy of any kind even remotely possible in the presence of such a security apparatus. The so-called fact finding committee formed by former vice president Omar Suleiman to investigate the matter is a patently ridiculous attempt at a cover up. All those responsible for the scorched earth strategy of murder and mayhem (whether in the police apparatus or among NDP officials and oligarchs), launched by the defunct regime over the past weeks must be arrested immediately, and a thorough investigation and prosecution process initiated, by civil prosecution authorities, under army protection and guarantees. The whole domestic security apparatus should be put under combined military/civilian oversight (including representatives of the human rights movement) in order to begin a full overhaul.

5. A provisional government: A provisional, national unity government of technocrats and widely respected public and political figures will need to be established as soon as possible to take charge of running the country, and laying the groundwork for the transition to a full democracy. There is a near consensus on what this government should look like, and even on several of the names that should be included in it. This process, however, needs to be closely monitored, and intervened in, by the various bodies set up by the revolution, particularly the youth movements. Radical changes of government open up a great many appetites, and as wondrous as our revolution has been, it has not transformed us into a nation of angels. We must expect a lot of grabbing and grappling on all levels of the state in the coming weeks and months, and we need to both take it in our stride, as well as try to create as many guarantees as possible that the process will be as clean, transparent and accountable as possible. Needless to say, the provisional government should be all-inclusive, a rainbow coalition not only of the various ideological and political trends in the pro-democracy movement, but also of the nation’s various sectors, most notably women and Copts.

6. A provisional constitution and bill of rights: One of the most urgent tasks of the revolution will be to enact a provisional constitution, and I suggest as well, a bill of rights. Needless to say the measures adopted by the defunct regime to amend the constitution have been rendered null and void. The army, respected legal, political and public figures and representatives of the revolution need to agree on a provisional constituent assembly, fairly small in number as to be effective, and large enough to be all-inclusive, that will enact what should be a concise provisional constitution, and – I might add – a bill of rights setting down the democratic and human rights principles that have been at the very core of the Egyptian revolution.

7. Clean up legislation: At the same time, the Herculean process of cleaning up the Augean Stables of authoritarianism needs to be started as soon as possible. Again bodies set up in accordance with the criteria mentioned above should begin operating as soon as possible to oversee such things as the clearing up of the legal code of the massive array of authoritarian, anti-democratic legislation, and drawing up new provisional legislation that would reflect the aims of the revolution, and those set out in the provisional constitution and bill of rights. This will include, to name the most notable examples, new electoral legislation, new legislation governing local government on all levels, clearing the penal code of anti-democratic legislation (some of which goes back to British colonial rule) and providing for the free exercise of political rights and freedom of expression, including the right to organize politically, the right to establish trade unions and NGOs, etc.

8. A National Salvation Front: There have been a great many ideas and initiatives aimed at setting up representative bodies and organizational structures for the revolution. It is my conviction that the coming months will witness a tremendous political revival that will change and transform the whole political map of the country in ways we cannot even begin to predict now. As I wrote before, extant political forces will be transformed, new ones will come on the stage, and not a few will simply fall into oblivion. No crystal ball is needed, however, in the case of the NDP, it’s dead already (I just hope the Muslim Brotherhood will resist the temptation of allowing the expected hordes of repentant NDP bosses into their ranks). However, ideas such as the Front of National Salvation floated by the youth movements might be the very thing to create new organizational structures able to reflect the unique features of the revolution as well as provide much needed instruments of oversight, to render the above processes as transparent, ad accountable as possible.

9. A youth party: One of the most interesting aspects of the youth revolution has been the crystallizing of a novel ideological and political discourse, which seems to have evolved on its own, away from the traditionally warring ideological and political factions of the country. This is a wholly new entrant on the nation’s political stage, most likely evolved in cyber space, and I fully admit; it has taken old-guys such as myself completely by surprise. It is an Egyptian nationalist discourse, almost intrinsically liberal, showing a deep commitment to fundamental human right, but spreading out to include secular, religious, leftist and Islamist leanings, all in happy coexistence, and continuous dialogue. I see no reason why this new discourse should not find organizational expression. The idea of creating a new political party, the 25 January Revolution has been floated during the past couple of days. I fully support this initiative, and can only hope that the revolution’s youth will not allow the old geezers to sabotage, or usurp a refreshing new entrant on the Egyptian political stage that is most uniquely theirs.

10. Independent Trade Union: Finally, the Egyptian labor movement is yet another crucial entrant on the nation’s political stage. Over the past couple of days, it helped tip the balance in favor of the revolution; a call has been made already to create a new Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions, as a long overdue alternative to the government-owned and run, Soviet-style dinosaur of the same name, which has been no more than a headstone set up on the grave of basic trade union freedoms and rights, crushed by police force. The post-revolutionary stage in Egyptian history promises to bring back Egyptian labor onto the political stage, it was pushed off some 60 years ago. A new actor, crucial in guaranteeing that the fruits of economic development will be distributed as equitably as possible, and  giving a social dimension to the political system, making it the truly vibrant and representative democracy we have long aspired for, and which during the past 18 days we proved to ourselves and to the whole world, that we truly deserve.

A final note: we need to guard against the urge to rush into elections. The urgent tasks noted above, and many more, are absolutely crucial to guarantee that truly democratic elections can be conducted. A new order is being born, but the old order is still rattling its chains. Let’s first exorcise the ghosts from our national home, only then can we furnish it at our leisure.

Short link: