OPED: Political party leaders of Egypt: Do you stand for democracy?
During my year in Cairo, as an American and a humble guest here, I have kept my opinions on Egypt’s current struggle for democracy to myself. But now that I have been charged in the NGO crackdown by Egyptian prosecutors with “two felony counts of teaching democracy”, I feel I have more than earned the right to speak out.
Before I do, let me establish my personal political beliefs: I have devoted my life to democracy and I am a lifelong progressive liberal. My political hero is the late US Senator Paul Wellstone who taught me this:
“Politics is not just about power and money games, politics is about the improvement of people’s lives, about lessening human suffering in our world and bringing about more peace and more justice.”
So in the struggle for democracy in Egypt, we must recognize we are at a crossroad with a stark choice between democracy:
… government by the people; especially: rule of the majority; a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections
… or dictatorship:
… a form of government in which absolute power is concentrated in a dictator or a small clique; a government organization or group in which absolute power is so concentrated; a despotic state
Last year, through my work at the National Democratic Institute, we taught over 4,000 political party activists and candidates the fundamentals of democracy and human rights. Specifically, I called upon my twenty-plus year career as a campaign manager to teach how to build political parties and how to run modern electoral campaigns. We trained members from every party that currently holds a seat in Parliament.
So my question, based on my experience teaching here, to Egypt’s political parties: After all the work of the past year – organizing, recruiting candidates and competing in the first ever free and fair election – exactly how much longer are you going to remain silent on the recent dissolution of Parliament?
Is the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) the only party willing to fight for democracy?
Most legal experts argue this decision was politically motivated and based on an extremely gray area of the law. An unelected court has wiped out the only democratically elected institution and disenfranchised 30 million Egyptian votes.
The FJP seems willing to fight for democracy and “a government by the people”:
“… the Brotherhood denied that the Supreme Constitutional Court’s verdict meant dissolution of the whole Parliament… Parliament was created by popular will, that billions of pounds were spent from state coffers on the exhausting marathon elections that created it, and that it was SCAF itself that passed the law on which parliamentary elections were conducted…”
“… At meeting with SCAF, Speaker El-Katatni calls dissolution of parliament ‘unconstitutional,’ tells generals to ‘respect will of people’…”
To date, most other parties are either dead silent or dead wrong:
“… MP Kamal Abu-Eita… of leftist inclinations, expressed satisfaction with the decisions. He said that the latter ruling dissolving Egypt’s Islamist-led parliament would serve to ‘restore the balance of Egyptian political life, which had been monopolised by a single political current…'”
“… Tagammu Party leader Sayed Abdel Aal said disbanding Parliament would return the revolution to its correct path because the new constitution should have been drafted before elections were held. Safir Nour, a leader in the Wafd Party, said the decision will reorganize the political arena and will show the size and strength of political parties and alliances in the street again…”
You cannot be an active participant in the struggle for democracy and remain silent on a court decision that thwarts the will of the 30 million people. And if you are applauding this decision, then you have no business asking voters to support you in future elections.
Democracy will only survive if the “will of the people” is respected and civil society is allowed to thrive and speak out. The dissolution of Parliament coupled with the recent crackdown on civil society puts Egypt’s fledgling democracy in grave danger.
If FJP stands alone on this, then the democratic gains that we all struggled for (myself included) in the last year will be lost, and lost for a long time. In the struggle for democracy, you are either for or against the will of the people, win or lose.
My late mentor Paul Wellstone also said this:
“If we don’t fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don’t really stand for them.”
So political party leaders of Egypt: Do you stand for democracy?
I believe it is time to fight hard for the things we stand for.