Is There Still Hope for a Democratic Egypt?

It is seeming increasingly unlikely that Egypt will achieve a democratic government by April, says the man who helped broadcast the revolution

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Reuters / Suhaib Salem

An anti-Mubarak protester holds an Egyptian flag in front of riot police as they stand guard outside the police academy where former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is on trial in Cairo.

In March 2011, 14 million Egyptians voted in favor of constitutional amendments that would create presidential term limits, require that the President choose a deputy within 30 days of being elected and would define the President’s powers to propose new constitutional amendments. (I was not one of those who voted in favor, but I respected the decision of the clear majority.)

The road map that voters approved would first allow the election of the People’s Assembly members, next it would pave the way for a presidential election and then, under the supervision of legitimate, elected officials, a new constitution would be drafted.

Even the military council, which was effectively running the country at the time, supported that process, while conferring on itself — temporarily — the powers of the presidency until a new President is elected. Since then, however, the military council has vowed to slow down the process, suggesting that it would remain in effective control for much longer, overseeing the drafting of a constitution before holding presidential elections many months from now. So when will a democratic Egyptian government gain legitimate, true power?

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It’s still possible for Egypt to elect a President on April 1, less than four months from now, if the presidential campaigns commence immediately after completion of shura (advisory) council elections on Feb. 22. But it is increasingly unlikely, and many people are tempted to accept the military council’s proposal to oversee a new constitution first. Some might hope that that process could be done so quickly that we could still achieve a democratic government by April. Yet there are three obvious problems:

1) This will be a departure from what Egyptians approved in the referendum because it alters the agreed-upon sequence of events, keeping the military in charge much longer.

2) It’s practically impossible to appoint the constituent assembly, draft the constitution, launch it for community debate and hold a referendum on it in less than 45 days. The constitution teems with many issues that require dialogue among, and consensus of, the political powers and the public at large. It will be a great shame if the constitution of our country is hastily developed.

3) More fundamentally, constitution drafting should not take place while the military council is in power. The military council is not an authority elected by the people to undertake that role.

Egypt needs to immediately hand over authority to a democratically selected body, elected by all its people. This is the issue that I — as an Egyptian who strives for a better Egypt and the preservation of the integrity of our military — believe to be our most significant task. I hope that the elected parliamentarians — the legitimate representatives of the people — play a prominent role in achieving this. The longer our transitional period drags on, the more we will be exposed to further economic and political problems and controversy.

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We are trying hard to achieve the objectives of the Jan. 25, 2011, revolution. The longer the military council remains in power, the longer we wait without success. Politics does not reward promises, only results. The 1952 revolution is a vivid example: Ali Maher Pasha — the post-revolution-appointed Prime Minister — promised that Egypt would have a democratic parliament to take over authority from the Revolution Leadership Council within a maximum of six months. Sixty years have passed, and his promise has yet to be fulfilled. Egyptians are still waiting.