Egypt Is Moving Away from Democracy

Tuesday, 07 Aug 2012 04:04 PM

By Tawfik Hamid

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egyptian-protesters.jpg
Egyptian protesters shout slogans against Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.
(Getty Images)
Traditionally, the ballot is seen as the best way to achieve true democracy. Recent experience in some Muslim countries such as Egypt, however, demonstrate that there are exceptions to this widely held belief.

Some of the basic values that are inherent in the word democracy include:
  • People as the source of power.
  • No group or faction or leader can impose their will, ideology, religion, or desires on anyone else (as articulated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton).
  • Equal rights for all citizens of the country.
  • Rule of law.
  • Respect for religious rights of citizens.

Here are five observations based on the military leadership of Egypt over the last few decades:
  1. The constitution was clear that people were the source of power.
  2. Different groups such as liberals and conservatives coexisted in a way that allowed them to live together in a manner that did not allow any faction or group to force their way of life on others. Egyptians were allowed under the military regime to pray and fast. They were also allowed to drink alcohol, and wear clothing as they deemed appropriate. For Egyptian women, this could range from wearing the Hijab and Niquab to a western-style bikini.
  3. Despite the existence of personal discrimination against non-Muslim minorities — who are predominantly Christians — and to a much lesser extent the Bahai community, the constitution was clear that all citizens had equal rights.
  4. Generally speaking, and despite the existence of corruption, major institutions of the country never dared to publically challenge the rule of law. For example, In the 1990s the Supreme Court decided to dissolve parliament. Mubarak himself, who was unhappy with the ruling, could not break or reject it.
  5. ‘Non-Muslims’ to include Christians, some Jews, etc. were allowed according to the constitution to apply their religious rulings in personal and social matters such as marriage and divorce.
The Islamists who came to power via the ‘ballot’ would create a very different society based on the following five observations:
  1. The predominantly Islamist panel that is supposed to create the new constitution of the country is considering changing the phrase, “People are the source of power” to “Allah (God) is the source of power.”
  2. Since they started to gain power, Islamists have been trying to force their beliefs and religion on others. On several occasions, statements by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood indicate that the government plans to ban things that are “un-Islamic” such as alcohol and bikinis.
  3. The Muslim Brotherhood has said it would not accept a Christian or a woman as president of the country. In fact, a few years ago, Mahdi Akef, the Muslim Brotherhood’s former supreme guide, said clearly that he would prefer a Muslim from Malaysia to rule Egypt than an Egyptian Christian. The new president — who belongs to the MB — has not distanced himself from such comments.
  4. After the Supreme Constitutional Court ruled that the parliament was unconstitutionally elected — and thus must be dissolved — the new president in an unprecedented move challenged the court ruling and reinstituted the dissolved parliament. This created a political uproar that made the president ultimately surrender to the court ruling. The fact that the new president initially rejected the ruling of the Supreme Constitutional Court is frightening by itself as it indicates that the president himself does not genuinely believe in respecting the rule of law. In other words, without the external pressures that included objections by the military and threats to impeach him, the president would have broken the rule of Law.
  5. Additionally, unlike the case of the former constitution under military leadership, the new Egyptian constitution is being created predominantly by the Islamists-allowed ONLY minorities who follow one of the Adian Samaweia (Religions that are revealed from God) to apply their religious values in social and personal matters. This was meant to deprive the Bahia from their equal rights as citizens.
The above points may illustrate how the foundations of democracy were more respected under the “military” than the “ballot” that brought Islamists to power.

This situation could also explain why Saad Elldin Ibrahim who is considered one of the main pro-democracy figures in the country after spending years fighting the military leadership (and who received tens of millions of dollars from the U.S. to establish democracy in Egypt via his Ibn Khaldun Centre for Development Studies) ultimately decided to openly support General Shafik — who clearly represented the military-backed Mubarak regime — in his candidacy for president

This is not meant to say that the Mubarak regime was faultless, but rather to emphasize that the ballot that brought Islamists to power could also create a less democratic system than under the military.

Dr. Tawfik Hamid is the author of "Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam." Read more reports from Tawfik Hamid — Click Here Now.

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