Since Egypt's newly-elected parliament began convening, and perhaps because of reactions to its initial performance, debate has erupted in Egypt about a conflict of legitimacy. This is a natural process, since Egyptians revived political activism thanks to the glorious January revolution after authoritarian rule had killed off serious politics in Egypt.
This debate could also be beneficial in identifying political and legal principles at play, such as sovereignty and legitimacy. Sovereignty, in law and politics, is the crux and key of legitimacy. But in order for a proper debate and for Egyptian politics to recover, everyone must avoid hurling random accusations and stop being unnecessarily suspicious.
The Constitutional Declaration by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) contained nothing new when in Article 3 it stated: “Sovereignty is for the people alone, and they are the source of all powers; the people will exercise this power and protect it.” Had the declaration omitted this sentence, it would have been incomplete and flawed.
Under genuine democratic rule, sovereignty only belongs to the people or to whomever they delegate some of this power without ceding it all, whether to individuals or institutions, in free and honest elections to guarantee the public good. The phase Egypt is going through right now focuses on the momentous task of safeguarding the revolution, but sovereignty always remains in the hands of the people who exercise it whenever and however they see fit.
When people delegate sovereignty, it is always temporary and conditional. It is for a specific duration of time and predicated on the approval of the people who judge the performance of their representatives. The people always have the right to revoke this power at any time through the tools of peaceful popular protest.
Some bodies and institutions of the ousted regime claimed sovereignty as a ploy to cover up the corrupt ruling clique and its tyranny, including the fraudulent People’s Assembly that was dissolved. It is best that this excuse is banished under proper democratic rule.
Accordingly, the people are the only source of legitimacy and can withhold it whenever they want. The people give legitimacy to whomever they trust to rule the country, protect the revolution and hold them accountable. This accountability could result in the people withdrawing their confidence in someone they had trusted but who failed to rule the country or achieve the goals of the revolution.
Hence, the people are the source of legitimacy. They bestow it, specifically to the People’s Assembly, and can rescind it from parliament whenever they feel that the latter has failed. This can occur at the next legislative elections or before that through peaceful popular protests that are sanctioned by the constitution, if parliament’s failures are too critical to wait until the next electoral cycle.
Parliament and the political forces behind it should show due respect and gratitude to the people, the source of parliament’s legitimacy, by performing well their duty to achieve the interests of the people and protect the revolution. Unfortunately, parliament’s initial performance is below expectations for forces that won in elections, and lower than our aspirations for healthy nascent democratic life in Egypt. It seems, so far, that Islamists are keen on procuring political gains by agreeing with the SCAF more than focusing on the twin goals of protecting the higher interests of the people and objectives of the revolution.
One can further say that these forces believe and act on the basis that the revolution has succeeded since it gave them parliament, since they are about to form a new government, and since they may nominate or support a presidential candidate. In this manner, they will hold the reins of power either directly or from behind the scenes in all the country’s institutions – even if there is not much progress on the revolutionary goals of freedom, social justice and human dignity.
Today’s majority seems to be singing the same tune as the former authoritarian regime by saying "give us more time" because the problems are acute and will take a long time to resolve. Without a doubt, this is true, but we hope that these are not the same stalling tactics of the authoritarian regime under the rule of the deposed tyrant, which also seems to be the compulsion of the transitional powers.
Everyone – parliament, the SCAF, presidential candidates and others – must know that, on principle, the people can cancel the mandate of any party delegated by the people and revoke its legitimacy, just as they did with the deposed tyrant with rising waves of the people’s revolution to overthrow the despot.
Lately, there have been formations of forces that benefit specific political trends.
Power, no matter how despotic or abused, does not make legitimacy. Brute force could hijack the will of the people temporarily, but this always comes to an end no matter how long the wait. This was the lesson of overthrowing one of the most authoritarian regimes that usurped Egypt for more than three decades, at the hands of the pure and peaceful people’s revolution. We hope that this lesson will not be lost on anyone, especially those who claim legitimacy for themselves whether genuinely or falsely.
The basic principles of law and politics maintain that sovereignty is the people’s alone, and they are the sole source of legitimacy. Anything else is deceitful assertions by those who lack legitimacy and feel strongly inadequate. The legitimacy of forced power, contrary to what some fools might think, is the easiest to overthrow; is the prime focus of the people’s wrath; and is most condemned by history.
I say this because of attempts by some groups to establish private security forces or infiltrate security forces with elements loyal to obedient political forces, while ignoring the need to genuinely reform all of Egypt’s security agencies. This could open the doors to a hell of private political militias, or – even worse – religious ones, and would result in tearing apart the country and destroying the principle of equal co-citizenship. Heed God in our nation and its people.