Democracy in Egypt: Always A Reason to Wait

The Atlantic Council translates a recent column by Amr Hamzawy -- one of the very few true liberals in Egypt --  in Shurouq newspaper:

From the mid-1900s until now, many different issues have been used to complete the argument that democracy must be postponed because “nothing is more important than such and such issue.” The issues that have completed this argument have included: national independence, development and preparing the people to practice democracy, socialism, the liberation of Palestine, confronting Zionism and imperialism, the battle to liberate the territory of the nation, economic well-being, stability, the preservation of the national state, and the war against terrorism. 
In turn, these tactics are used to propagate a third illusion that contributes to the current siege on the concept of democracy in Egypt: the illusion of “national necessity.” Through this illusion, authoritarianism can effectively ensure its continued grip on power.  Prior to and following the summer of 2013, my writings consistently warned of the authoritarian trend behind the claims that the military intervention in politics on July 3 was an “act of necessity” and that the former Minister of Defense, Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, was participating in the presidential elections as the “candidate of necessity,” later to become the “president of necessity” following the announcement of the election results. These claims of “necessity” are truly authoritarian, as they – in the best of cases – justify departing from democracy, based on the pretext that there was no alternative to an intervention by the military establishment in politics, even when the alternative of holding early presidential elections certainly was possible. In the worst of cases, such claims of “necessity” effectively strip citizens of the right to freely choose their leaders through elections by legitimizing the presidential candidate backed by the system of rule (or its lists and candidates in the upcoming parliamentary elections) as a matter of “national necessity.”

Ursula Lindsey

Ursula Lindsey is the managing editor of the Arabist blog. She writes about culture, education and politics in the Arab world. She lived in Cairo from 2002 to 2013 and got her start at the ground-breaking independent magazine Cairo Times. She was the culture editor of Cairo magazine in 2005-2006 and served as special projects editor at the independent news site Mada Masr in 2013-2014. She is the Chronicle of Higher Education's Middle East correspondent. She contributes to the BBC-PRI radio program The World, and has written for Newsweek, The New York Times, The New Yorker online, Bookforum and the blog of the London Review of Books.

In Translation: Amr Hamzawy on the civil state

In this week's translation from the Arabic press — as always courtesy of translation service Industry Arabic — we turn again to Egypt. Amr Hamzawy is a political researcher who worked in Washington for several years for the Carnegie Endowment for International Affairs, a think tank, and become over the past decade a prominent commentator on political reform in Egypt and the Arab world. After the January uprising, Hamzawy returned to Egypt, began teaching at Cairo University and quickly became a popular guest on television shows and a rising political star of the liberal movement. He is currently a candidate for the Masr al-Horreya Party, which he co-founded, in a central Cairo district. Hamzawy's relative youth (he is in his late 30s, I believe), his telegenic style and progressive views have made him popular among young Egyptians close to the liberal side of the revolutionary movements. His public declaration of love to the actress Basma, several weeks ago, after the couple was carjacked late one evening outside of Cairo, added to his celebrity status. Although some dismiss him as too inexperienced in politics to be taken seriously, in some ways Hamzawy's outsider status (compared to the old opposition) make him an interesting example of the new space being carved out for progressive liberal politics in Egypt, even if that space is small. One supposes the parliamentary elections wil tell.

In his regular column for al-Shorouk this week, Hamzawy reacts to the recent events at Maspero and argues that not only the return to civilian rule must be quick, but that a civil state is the only hope against sectarianism.

On the Necessity of a Civil State

By Amr Hamzawy, al-Shorouk, 18 October 2011

To tell you the truth, today, and in the days following the events of Maspiro, I have become more convinced that the establishment of a civil state – by which authority is transferred from the military establishment to elected civil bodies, the relationship between religion and politics is arranged, and equal rights are guaranteed for all citizens – is the only way Egypt’s situation can be fixed. The coming parliamentary elections are an important stage along this path: they will either bring us and the civil state – defined as neither military nor religious – closer, or will spread us apart.

The longer the transition period has lasted during which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) runs Egypt’s unstable affairs, the more SCAF has become mired in clashes with political and social powers and transformed from an authority standing at everyone’s side to a party in clashes and conflicts over politics and public affairs. The longer the period has lasted since the SCAF has undertaken the job of the standing security forces in protecting and securing public facilities, and at times controlling the movement of protestors and strikers, the more the military has become mired in violent confrontations, which both it and society could do without.

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