Egypt's unrestrained democracy

Wael Gamal , Wednesday 17 Jul 2013

The Egyptian revolution has paved the way for a democracy based on liberation from economic exploitation, political repression and ideological hegemony

Time magazine chose the people of Egypt as its cover story in the last issue. The magazine divided a magnificent photograph of the masses on the streets demanding the ouster of Mohamed Morsi into two: one titled "World’s best protesters" and the second shaded in red as the "World’s worst democrats".

The magazine concluded "The street rules," according to its lead story; it had ousted Mubarak the dictator, shortened military rule, and then the crowd took over again, persuading “the military to remove President Mohamed Morsi after his first and only year in office.”

And this is supposedly a bad example of democracy.

The Egyptian uprising on 30 June triggered wide domestic debate about the meaning of democracy. The pro-Morsi protesters in Rabaa Al-Adawiya raise the banner of the ballot box as the source of political legitimacy, describing what happened as a "military coup" against the will of the people. But, as Time put it, they forget that they and their constitutional legitimacy came to power in the very same way in January 2011, followed by 18 months of military rule.

They also forget the pledge and contract they made in order for voters to elect President Morsi (more than half of them did so apprehensively), which the president, his party and government ignored for an entire year.

In opposition to Rabaa is the view of the military and their political allies who are mapping out a new transitional phase, arguing the street is demanding change and the people cannot be ignored. But since 3 July, they too are moving, negotiating and operating in complete obscurity and greatly marginalising the street. In fact, Tamarod (Rebel) movement, which had collected millions of signatures to a petition for early presidential elections, did object to the path that delays presidential elections until the last phase.

The debate about the meaning of democracy comes at an extraordinary time. In Egypt, it comes in the wake of a revolution that overthrew Mubarak rule and continues to battle the tyranny of his regime that remained. It also coincides with a crisis in democracy around the world after the 2008 world economic crisis hammered the last nail in the coffin of the theory of the "end of History" — less than 20 years after it appeared.

Not only did the economic crisis, which began with financial symptoms, result in uncovering structural flaws and distortions of the market economy model, but day after day it unmasks the political model of capitalist democracy that accompanies it.

The worst democrats?

Which democracy are we talking about here? Prominent thinker Abdel-Wahab Al-Messeiri tells us in an article published in October 2004, titled “Democracy and value,” that: “Democracy is commonly defined as a political system that allows all citizens who have the right to vote to participate in decisions that affect their individual and collective lives in any social or political domains. Democracy is also defined as a political format built on the principles of governing through the acceptance and approval of the citizenry, based on the fact that the legitimacy of the government is directly or indirectly rooted in the will of the majority, if not all of society. This model of representative democracy requires several preconditions, such as free elections, confidential voting, equal opportunities among candidates, as well as legal equality, freedom of expression, publication and assembly.”

El-Messeiri deftly highlights the difference between what he calls the active model — the one actually being applied, which suffices with a democratic process that a few elite belonging to a social alliance skilfully manoeuvre, and combines the power of economics, media and suppression — and the ideal model.

Even the ideal model is not based on a transient abstract principle of history. Capitalist democracy and its parties, process and ballot boxes — which are all milestones in the history of mankind — was most likely snatched after a centuries-long struggle of mass action. It is a historical product that can be adapted and improved, and transcended.

The BBC correspondent for European affairs, Gavin Hewitt, wrote an article in 2011: “Now in parts of Europe democracy is being discarded like unwanted clothing.” Meanwhile, the platforms and policies of elected leaders and parties contradict the interests and outlook of the citizenry for the benefit of a minority in power and financial elite who are destroying the economy and the lives of millions.

This crisis has clearly revealed the limitations of capitalist democracy that restrains the resolve of the people if it contradicts the interests of the ruling class. This has caused the people to invent grassroots forms of democracy in production and local administration, anything they could snatch during mass revolutionary experiments in Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia and elsewhere.

This grueling crisis of democracy caused the UN to propose such concepts as "participatory democracy" that creates an institutional process whereby all forces and social classes have a role and responsibility in taking decisions that impact their lives — not leaving matters in the hands of those who were elected to office even if these officials are destroying the values of democracy and equality.

Democracy of “counting fingers”

In the case of Egypt, elections came with the blood of those who died in Tahrir, Abbasiya, Mohamed Mahmoud, Port Said, and elsewhere. It ushered in a president and government that blamed the masses, the very voters who had put them in office, and dismissed their demands of redistributing wealth, for social justice, ending marginalisation, discrimination against Coptic, Nubian and Sinai Egyptians. Instead, they initiated laws to deprive the masses of their last weapon to defend their livelihood through strikes and sit-ins. They described their desperate protests as transgression against the “authority of the state.”

The model of capitalist democracy wearing robes is a ruse that does not trespass against the centres of monopoly on power, income, livelihood and control. This is the definition of a democracy of “counting fingers,” as Al-Messeiri calls it. It is a democracy void of value (a clear paradox for those who claim religious foundations) because it aims far from the target of sovereignty to the people and freedom, by sanctifying the process itself for the purpose of upholding the new system. This is similar to the crisis of capitalist democracy in Europe and the US; the democratic process is a vital condition for it but is not enough to achieve it.

The Egyptian revolution opened the door for forces seeking the democracy of values even in Europe and the US. The struggle of the Egyptian people on the streets and the forces they created outside the traditional paradigms of power have inspired those who are today fighting for their livelihoods in Athens, Chicago, Dublin, London and Rio de Janeiro.

Time magazine is not opposed to a military coup or its risks, whose sole remedy is on the street that is now governing and has become the reference for everyone today. Instead, it is forcing on us Fukuyama’s "end of History" theory on the capitalist democracy model, in the hope of preventing Egypt’s fever from infecting the cradle of this teetering model in Europe and the US.

The Egyptian revolution and the street imposing its will in Cairo, Alexandria, Fayyoum, Suez, the Aluminium Complex in Nagaa Hamadi, Ceramica Cleopatra and Al-Sharqiya Tobacco are opening the doors of history to create a new democracy based on liberation from economic exploitation, political repression and ideological hegemony.

Behind the door lay in wait those who benefit from continuing the status quo, whether major world corporations, governments, military alliances, international financial institutions, regional powers, Muslim Brotherhood, businessmen, military and politicians in the corridors of power and guardians of former regimes. But their exertions will be unsuccessful in closing the doors; theirs is a wretched endeavour that is doomed to fail.

This article was first published in Al-Shorouk

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