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In Egypt: When Democracy is not an Option

By       Message Esam Al-Amin     Permalink
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He also addressed the presidential decree and acknowledged that the opposition to the sweeping powers given to the president was legitimate but that such powers were probably unnecessary since he already had sufficient authority to deal with any instability in the country. He then proclaimed that once a national dialogue with the opposition commenced, he would not insist on article 6 and would be willing to rescind it. As for article 2, he claimed that he only meant to shield sovereign presidential decisions from the courts not the typical executive ones, and that such interpretation was already an established principle upheld in the past by the courts.

However, since the beginning of the crisis, many opposition groups had two main demands: the annulment of the decree and the cancellation of the referendum until a national consensus is reached on the disputed articles of the constitution. Remarkably, Morsi's speech addressed both concerns and offered real concessions on both fronts. Initially, Morsi stated upon issuing his decree that it would only be voided once a parliament is elected. That meant the decree would be in effect at least until next spring provided that the referendum on the constitution passed and parliamentary elections were held within two months, as proposed in the new constitution.

But in his speech on Thursday, Morsi declared that his decree would be rescinded once the people vote on the constitutional referendum on December 15, regardless of the outcome of the vote. In other words, he pledged to accede to the first demand of the opposition within nine days, without any concessions on their part. Nevertheless, the opposition argued that this pledge was a ploy because he knew that the referendum would pass by a wide margin and then the decree would become moot anyway.

As for the constitutional referendum, the president offered another carrot to the opposition, calling for a national dialogue between all the political groups to take place in the presidential palace on Saturday, December 8. He said that any concern could be raised by the participants and any item could be placed on the agenda without preconditions. In addition, he stated that he was open to all options on any issue as long as a consensus among the different warring parties could be reached. He further urged all political groups to participate in order to chart a new roadmap for the future of the country. Finally, he vowed that if the constitutional referendum were rejected by the people on Dec. 15, he would not appoint the next CCA as stipulated by a previous decree issued by the military. Rather he called for either reaching a consensus on this body by all the national political groups, or failing that, asking the people to directly elect the next Constitution Constituent Assembly that would be charged with writing the new constitution.

Earlier in the day, Vice President Makki had given a press conference in which he offered what he called a constitutional way to resolve the disputed articles in the new constitutional draft. He proposed that a committee of three constitutional scholars be formed with each side appointing one expert and the third being acceptable to both sides. Then he asked that the proposed language of the 10 to 15 disputed articles be given by both sides to this committee. In turn the committee would study both versions and propose a compromise language to the disputed articles. He then said that all political groups must at the outset vow to accept the outcome of this committee and agree to support it in the new parliament, as it will be offered to the people as amendments to the constitution in a future referendum. In his speech Morsi hinted that he would accept such proposal.

After the speech it became clear that there was a split among the opposition. Ayman Nour from Al-Ghad Party and El-Sayyed Badawi from Al-Wafd Party were open to the dialogue. Sabahi, ElBaradei, the April 6 revolutionary youth movement and some groups affiliated with the fulool rejected the dialogue out of hand and called for further demonstrations and escalation. The NSF did not immediately respond, but Moussa said that he would confer with the other partners.

After the speech, Morsi's Justice Minister, Judge Ahmad Makki, announced that the president was open to all options if the opposition vowed to participate in the dialogue, including the postponement of the constitutional referendum pending the resolution of the disputed articles provided that a broad national consensus was reached. Makki further presented a mechanism to this process. He said that if a broad agreement were achieved during the Dec. 8 national dialogue between the different parties, the president would be open to issue a new constitutional decree that would postpose the Dec. 15 constitutional referendum in order to give additional time to settle the disputed articles in the current draft.

Accepting the Rules of Democracy

But perhaps many of the secular leaders are wary of this course of action because they know that ultimately they cannot win at the ballot box. One of their prominent spokesmen, Hamzawy, recently said on national TV that he could not trust the judgment of the people because they are brain washed by the Islamist parties. And therein lies the crux of the problem.

Morsi, the MB, and other Islamist parties feel so much confidence at the polls that they always assert that the best way to settle any political differences is to submit to the will of the people. They reason that the rules of democracy dictate that political disputes are always settled at the ballot box. In this particular instance, Morsi publicly asked to let the people decide on the fate of the new constitution, and failing ratification, he called for citizens to elect the one hundred people charged with writing the new constitution.

Meanwhile, the secular forces argue correctly that constitutional documents are living documents that represent the social contract between the state and all segments of society and cannot be subject to the rules of majority and minority voting. While many Islamist groups agree with this notion, they ask how in the end are we going to settle our differences if we cannot reach consensus?

While there are several articles in the constitution that need to be revised and amended, the idea that this constitution lays the ground for the creation of a religious state as proclaimed by some secular groups is not credible. Nevertheless, the Islamist parties, especially the MB, need to be more open and humble in their dealings with the others in order to mollify their fears and concerns. Thus, the best course of action might be to accept Vice President Makki's proposal to reach a compromise on the few disputed articles in order to bring about a consensus.

As for the secular forces, they need to face reality and accept the will of the people in a new and free Egypt. If their vision and programs for the country are better than the Islamist parties, then they have to convince the Egyptian electorate and start winning elections and referendums. They cannot claim to be pro-democracy and reject its outcome, or hail its principles while undermining its system or circumventing its rules.

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Esam Al-Amin is a regular contributor for a number of websites.

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