Tahrir 2.0

Tahrir is showing that the democratic fiber in Egypt is irreversible.  Fantastic to note.  But the dynamics have obviously become more complex with the latest intervention by the army.

After the revolution of 2011, the political and military elite took a wrong turn.  It made the classic mistake, aided by the international community, to rush towards a new constitution, a new electoral system and elections without a transparent process or any national consensus on what kind of political society Egyptians wanted.  This meant there was no open dialogue aimed at finding a substantial consensus about the nature of Egypt’s nascent democracy.  Everybody focused on taking over power and saw elections as the tool to gain and consolidate their hold on power.  But elections by themselves do not make democracy.

But what the original Tahrir revolution wanted and still wants is a new democratically ruled Egypt. However, there is no road map to translate this desire into practice.  History teaches us that you cannot move after decades of dictatorship to democracy overnight.  Rather, there is a need for a inclusive and transparent transition process which culminates at the end in free and fair elections.

This week at Tahrir, people were celebrating the next step in their revolution, blowing their lungs out on Vuvuzela’s imported from South Africa.  The Egyptian political elite would be well advised to borrow another South African practice, namely the experience of the successful transition to democracy.

Apartheid South Africa was arguably as deeply divided as Egypt is today.  After apartheid had come to the end of the road, the deeply polarized political elite agreed on a 4-year transition period.  These years were used for intensive and inclusive discussions to reach an agreement about the basic rules and institutions for the new South Africa.  An interim-constitution was in force during this period and not until after agreement was reached with the widest possible political spectrum in South Africa, were successful general elections organized in 1994.  The new legislature took up the responsibility of preparing a new constitution again in a nation-wide consultative process which resulted in a new constitution which most South Africans across political divides are proud of today. Moreover, the constitution is widely respected around the world.

For Egypt to move forward in peace there is no alternative than to engage in an inclusive national dialogue, to establish what the new Egyptian democratic identity should be.   This should coincide with a national process of reconciliation that reaches out to every Egyptian.  This dialogue should result in agreement about a new constitution acceptable to the major political forces in Egypt, but should also be extended to national consultations to address the major concerns of Egypt in relation to the economy, youth employment, education reform, etc.   In all major sectors, serious conversations need to be started to reach wider consensus and to learn to practice resolving conflicts of interest peacefully.

The democratic spirit of a new generation of Egyptians will not subside, as Tahrir once again shows.   The old political elites will need to accept that it is no longer politics as usual.  A new democratic Egypt will need to be shaped by Egyptians themselves.  That takes time and should not be foreclosed by early elections through an electoral system and administration which is not supported by the majority of Egyptians while lacking the institutions to back it up.

The peaceful way forward, the roadmap as is referred to, can be summarized in 2 words:  dialogue and reconciliation.

Roel von Meijenfeldt. July 4th, 2013