Marzouki = ElBaradei?

Moncef MarzoukiMohamed ElBaradei
David Ignatius' WaPo column yesterday, written from Cairo, highlights two paths for Egypt's transition: the quick passage to a new presidency, or a slower process in which a strong prime minister launches state reforms while a constitution is hammered out around a new political consensus. Most Egyptian presidential candidates, and political parties, have thuis far voiced a preference for option number one, chiefly because it guarantees the quickest transition back to civilian rule. Mohamed ElBaradei, almost alone, has insisted you cannot have a presidential election before a new constitution is written and that the process must take place over a longer period of time to be taken seriously:

I visited Mohamed ElBaradei and Amr Moussa, the two leading political figures. Both agreed that the military rulers must be replaced soon by civilians, but they differed sharply about priorities.

“The situation is 100 percent messy, going from bad to worse,” says ElBaradei. “People thought this revolution was about freedom and basic needs, but they haven’t seen anything yet of either.” The army has the power, but “they have no clue how to run the country.”

ElBaradei volunteers to serve as prime minister for the broad coalition government he hopes will emerge from elections: It could recreate the unity of the Tahrir revolution, he argues. The key is to gain enough time and stability to write a careful constitution that guarantees basic freedoms and keeps Egypt a “civil” state: “Democracy is not instant coffee,” says the former Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Moussa wants to move more quickly — to a presidential election by mid-2012, a few months after the new parliament is seated. He is already the leading presidential candidate, and he’s running a populist campaign that tries to offer something for every constituency. He sides with the Muslim Brotherhood — and against El Baradei — in favoring a quick constitution, without a bill of rights, that retains the ambiguous Article 2 endorsing Islamic sharia law as the main source of legislation, but also affirming minority rights.

“This is an uphill drive, but it should start right away,” says the former foreign minister.

“Make haste slowly,” advises the old Latin proverb, and that seems a good recipe for Egypt. A strong prime minister can pull the country together and get it moving again, while the country writes a good constitution. A quickie constitution that permanently enfranchises the political powers of the moment could be a disastrous mistake.

Good of Ignatius to give his take. ElBaradei's idea of being a strong PM under some new kind of arrangement with the SCAF was rumored last month, soon after the Maspero massacre of October 9. Negotiations may have taken place between ElBaradei and SCAF, and presumably either they couldn't come to an agreement over the terms. ElBaradei has proposed, back in February, a civilian-led transition council that might include one member of the military. This would be an adapted version of the same, with a strong PM addressing major reforms and the re-establishing of the police while politicians would presumably focus on the constitution and perhaps propose new legislation.

ElBaradei's take reminds of the Tunisian former dissident Moncef Marzouki, who surprised many in last month's election when his party, the CPR, came second after Ennahda. Marzouki was not known to be backed by millionaires or to have a major grassroots organization, although CPR had an established underground network of activists. Marzouki is one of the few major politicians in Tunisia to have refused to sign the "pact" that would limit the transition and constitution-writing period to one year. Instead, he wants a strong government that can begin to undertake transitional reforms, include of the judicial system and the police, and a South Africa-style truth adn reconciliation commission. He highlighted this in an excellent Mediapart interview I flagged the other day:

Moncef Marzouki, où en êtes-vous des négociations pour la formation du gouvernement d'union nationale ?

Il y a trois dossiers sur lesquels il faut avancer. Le premier, c'est la nature des réformes que doit conduire le prochain gouvernement. Pour le CPR, ces réformes doivent être réelles, structurelles et concrètes. Il y a deux types de réformes, celles urgentes, qui concernent la police et la justice, et le dossier des martyrs et des blessés de la révolution. Ce sont des dossiers sensibles du point de vue de la psyché collective.

Il y a ensuite les réformes de structure. Le Congrès pour la république appelle à la tenue d'états généraux, du chômage, de l'éducation, de la culture, du système judiciaire, sécuritaire, des relations extérieures, de l'énergie. Pour nous, ce concept d'états généraux signifie que les partis confrontent leurs programmes avec des spécialistes de ces questions, ainsi que des représentants de la société civile. Au bout de trente jours, pour que les débats ne s'éternisent pas, il faut que l'on mette en place les grands axes des réformes de structure. De cette manière, nous pourrons à la fois établir des réformes d'urgence et de structure, et notamment sur la question centrale du chômage. La dictature a détruit pratiquement tous les systèmes, éducatifs, de santé, etc.

Le second dossier, c'est l'élaboration d'une sorte de petite constitution, en attendant la grande. Cela nous prendra au moins une année, voire une année et demie pour se mettre d'accord sur les bases, quel type de régime, etc. En attendant, il faut une répartition claire des pouvoirs entre le président de la République, le président de la constituante et le premier ministre, de façon que le pays soit gouverné presque comme un triumvirat.

Une fois que nous serons d'accord sur les réformes et la répartition des pouvoirs, il faudra parler de celle des responsabilités ministérielles. Ce, en fonction des scores obtenus par les partis et en fonction d'une règle évidente – l'homme ou la femme qu'il faut, à la place qu'il faut – de manière que ce gouvernement soit homogène, efficace et réponde aux grandes attentes du pays. Nous sommes actuellement en train de débattre sur ces trois niveaux.

To summarize from the French, Marzouki wants three major axes for government policy:

  1. Two types of reforms need to be considered: urgent reforms that have psychological importance, such as the future of the police, the judicial system, and compensation for the martyrs of the revolution; and long-term policy on the major structural issues affecting the country: unemployment, economic growth, social justice, etc. He proposes that political parties put their programs to specialists and that a consensus be formed in 30 days (very unrealistic!) 
  2. The elaboration of a "small constitution" to give time for the big, final constitution (which he says should be like the American constitution, a document meant to last hundreds of years) to be written. This small constitution would separate powers between the prime minister, the president and the speaker of parliament, who would govern as a trumvirate. 
  3. Once this is done, ministerial posts should be distributed between parties according to electoral result and the principle of putting the right man/woman for the job.

In other parts of the interview, Marzouki particularly stresses the importance of transitional justice, which has not been addressed by the interim government so far, as well as the restructuring of a rotten judicial system so judges are no longer under the authority of the president and are made more responsive to civil society.

How much of this plan, which may not work in Tunisia since most parties are against it, could work in Egypt? The big stumbling block of course is that SCAF seems uninterested in letting go of the government. Every decision now seems to run past them. Nor have they been interested in considering structural reforms, or even at how to create a better police force. They rule by the precepts of Mubarakism: status-quoism, no thinking outside of the box, reactive rather than pro-active. This is why Egypt's transition is going so badly.

I'm not sure what ElBaradei's plan, and the similar proposal by Marzouki, offers right now. But, anticipating a future political crisis, it's not a bad model at all to salvage the situation — if the SCAF could be countered.

Update: The ElBaradei campaign is having trouble — once again, because of their man's leadership style.

Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region,