Authentic Democracy in Egypt
by Fred E. Foldvary, Senior Editor, 9 August 2013Egypt has a dilemma. They elected a President, Mohammed Morsi, in June 2012, based on the provisional constitution of 2011. That President was widely regarded as oppressive, and the economy was plunging into bankruptcy and massive poverty. Also, President Mohamed Morsi had issued a decree granting himself full powers above the courts. Many Egyptians took to the streets to protest, and the military can claim that when it acted to remove the president, it did so on behalf of the people.
A new constitution for Egypt was approved by a referendum in December 2012. Its Article 2 made “the principles of Islamic law the main source of legislation.” The army of Egypt, which took over the government, suspended the constitution in July 2013.
The military commander Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi and the interim president Adli Mansour issued a “road map” and “constitutional declaration” for new elections. The new prime minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, is an economist who previously served as finance minister. Diplomat Mohamed ElBaradei, who won a Nobel peace prize for his services at the United Nations, is vice president for foreign relations. Protestors, Morsi’s supporters, have been shot at and killed. Meanwhile, the government is receiving funds from some oil-rich Arab governments in addition to continuing aid from the USA.
As with its other African possessions, British rule failed to establish an authentic democracy in Egypt. The British defeated the Egyptian army in 1882 and then implicitly ruled the country, even though it was nominally under the Turkish Empire. In 1914, with the U.K. at war with the Turkish Empire, the U.K. made a Egypt a British protectorate. Egypt became nominally independent in 1922 as the Kingdom of Egypt, but British domination continued. The revolution of 1952 overthrew the king and expelled the British officials.
Egypt had created a parliament back in 1866 and changed the structure and elections for its national assembly several times. Egypt’s 1971 constitution authorized a new parliament. It had a lower house, the People’s Assembly, and later created an upper house, the Shura Council.
This bicameral structure originated in the British parliament, with its House of Commons and House of Lords. The US Constitution copied this as the House of Representatives and the Senate. The two houses make some sense in the US as a federation of sovereign states, with their equal representation in the Senate. But most US states also copied this structure even though they are not federations.
An advantage of having two legislative houses is that this makes it more difficult to pass special-interest legislation. Bad legislation can be blocked, but good reforms can also be impeded. The bicameral legislature model used world-wide has not prevented wars, restrictions on liberty, and economy-crunching policies.
It is now time for Egypt to finally liberate itself from British misrule. The current parliamentary model is a 17th-century relic not suited to the populations and communications of the 21st century. This model of mass democracy has failed world-wide, as can be observed by the economic and social problems of Japan, Europe, and the US at all its levels of government.
Egypt can reform its democracy using its existing subdivisions. The territory of Egypt contain 27 geographic governorates. The governors are appointed by the President of Egypt. The most populated governorate is that of the capital, Cairo, with a population of over 8.7 million. The governorates are divided into local-government regions which have had both elected councils and officials appointed by the governors. The local governments have the power to levy local taxes.
Authentic democracy must be constructed from the ground up. It needs to begin at the local level, in a village or city neighborhood. As Egypt already has its governorates and their local regions. Egypt now needs to adopt a constitution that shifts power to the village and neighborhood level. The residents should be able to form their own local districts if they wish. Power would then flow up from neighborhood councils, that then elect the regional councils, which then elect representatives to the national assembly. The assembly would then elect the president.
Egypt’s government has been highly centralized. This was the flaw in its past constitutions, including that of 2011. The new constitution needs to reverse this, to bring power to the people. If the Egyptian military and current chiefs of state truly seek to replace authoritarian rule with an authentic democracy, the only way to have full control by the people is with small-group bottom-up elections. In some ways, mass democracy is worse than dictatorship, because at best, it provides a cover for misrule, and at worst, it becomes a sham.
Just as the human body is based on biological cells, the political body needs to be founded on neighborhood cells. Such “cellular democracy” will prevent abusive concentrations of power that induce the military to take over. There still needs to be a constitution that protects freedoms and minorities, and provides for a sound economic system. But without cellular democracy, all other reforms will be futile.
-- Fred Foldvary
Copyright 2010 by Fred E. Foldvary. All rights reserved. No part of this material may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, which includes but is not limited to facsimile transmission, photocopying, recording, rekeying, or using any information storage or retrieval system, without giving full credit to Fred Foldvary and The Progress Report.
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