POMED Notes: Revolution in Progress: Will There Be a Democratic Egypt?
On Monday (12/10), Freedom House hosted a discussion with Dr. Nancy Okail, Egypt Project Director, Freedom House; Dr. Steven Cook, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies, Council on Foreign Relations; and Charles Dunne, Director of Middle East and North Africa Programs, Freedom House. The discussion covered a number of issues surrounding Egypt’s upcoming vote on the constitutional referendum, continuing protests, and the challenges facing Egypt’s president, Mohammad Morsi.
For full notes continue reading, or click here for the PDF.
Charles Dunne opened the discussion by presenting the day’s topic, President Morsi’s recent seizure power and what it means for the democratic process in Egypt. Dunne addressed the fact that freedom of speech continues to be suppressed, human rights are still limited, and the military remains unaccountable. The situation, Dunne asserted, has only been further exacerbated by taking place in a constitutional vacuum. Dunne stated that Morsi’s recent set of decrees, which expand the president’s authority in the absence of a constitution, are only confusing things and leading to a counter revolt. Dunne concluded that in light of the upcoming referendum, Egypt has had relatively free and fair elections, but elections themselves do not guarantee that freedoms will be fully realized by society.
Nancy Okail addressed the Muslim Brotherhood’s push for a vote on the new constitution. She remarked that the population is being told that a “yes” vote for the document is a vote for stability, though it will also be a vote for Sharia law. Okail expressed concern that the vote is being rushed just as it was in 2011, and opined that rushing the process is not necessarily a good thing for democracy if the citizenship is uninformed on what they are voting for. She also said the same tactic was used in the previous parliamentary elections. The electoral law was found to be flawed, leading to dissolution of parliament. According to Okail, the recent moves by Morsi to centralize power and directly influence the constitutional drafting process are also undermining the constitutional assembly. Morsi’s recent implantation of taxes followed by an immediate recession raises questions as to whether his actions are being guided by his favorite Islamists or his constituency. In Okail’s opinion, Morsi’s actions appear to be populist measures and show that he is floundering while weighing the demands of the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) against those of the opposition. In this sense, Okail believes the FJP is creating a parallel government.
Steven Cook presented the argument that Egypt’s revolution is not finished. He highlighted the fact that all factions of the political spectrum have used liberal rhetoric, but the liberals themselves have not been able to seize the moment. Cook also saw the revolution as part of a broader struggle that has been going on since 1919, in which the Egyptian people have been fighting to establish a representative government, retain their dignity, and develop some measure of national power. He said the premise of the current movement is not that different from the platform of Gamel Abdel Nasser, which also sought social justice, upward mobility, and retention of Egyptian dignity as well. In Cook’s opinion, the Muslim Brotherhood is attempting to offer the same ideas as Nasser, but through their own world view. Cook concluded that Morsi is not consolidating power for domestic purposes; rather, he believes that Morsi is attempting to make Egypt relevant again.