When I voted “no” in the referendum on constitutional amendments last March, just weeks after the longtime dictator Hosni Mubarak was ousted, it was a vote against the entire military-led transition process that set off the continuing legal mess that culminated in the recent dissolution of the Brotherhood-dominated Parliament and in the military’s seizure of sweeping legislative powers.
The amendments and the referendum marked the beginning of a process that led Egyptians and the world to falsely believe that Egypt was being democratized. On March 19, 2011, many Egyptians proudly showed off their inked fingers to symbolize participating in a referendum that they thought laid down a “road map of transition to civil, democratic rule,” as members of the council like to call it.
But that twisted road map was always intended to suppress the Egyptian people’s aspirations by delaying a democratic transition and dragging Egyptians along a path determined by the military. The referendum and the parliamentary and presidential elections have kept the people distracted by the trappings of democracy.
Meanwhile, Mr. Mubarak’s regime never ceded power. The former president lost his title and was brought to trial, and some of his iconic aides have been prosecuted (by a Mubarak appointee), although they have not yet been given final sentences.
Other than that, everything remains almost the same as it was before the revolution. The army’s commanders and the government’s key ministers have not changed; the Interior Ministry violates human rights as brazenly as ever; thousands of ordinary Egyptians have been subjected to military trials; and injustices are being perpetrated on Egyptian citizens under a new decree giving the military police and intelligence officials the right to detain civilians.
A functioning democracy could not possibly have emerged from a process that entailed electing a Parliament and a president before establishing a constitution that outlined their respective powers and their relationship with the army.
Democracy can survive only where there is rule of law; it cannot take root in a country plagued by legal and political chaos. Egyptian courts have been consumed by disputes over the legality of the Parliament itself, over the constitution-drafting assembly formed by the now-dissolved Parliament, and about how and where the new president will take the oath of office in the absence of a national legislature.
The uncertainty goes on and on, leaving legal experts and opinion leaders in a constant debate that distracts Egyptians from the ideals for which they waged their revolution.
Given the military’s consistent disregard for basic democratic norms over the past 16 months, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s comment last week that “There can be no going back on the democratic transition called for by the Egyptian people” sounded ridiculous.
Despite the army’s blatant power grabs, the Obama administration has had no qualms about restoring American military aid, waiving a Congressional requirement that links military assistance to the protection of basic freedoms, so as to preserve the United States’ longtime alliance with Egypt’s rulers.
America could have sided with the Egyptian people if it had wanted to. But the question is whether the American government really has the will to see Egypt become a democracy.
If the Obama administration genuinely supports the Egyptian people in their pursuit of freedom, then it should realize that democracy will take root only through the revolutionary path that started on the streets in January 2011 — not through the dubious ways of the Mubarak-appointed military council.
(Source: New York Times, June 18, 2012)