Egypt: “Sic Semper Tyrannis!”*


February 13, 2011

*“Thus always to tyrants,” Brutus had said to Julius Caesar in 44 BC while killing Rome’s savior-turned-dictator. And thus spoke the people of Egypt to their own stabilizer-turned-dictator of 30 years, Hosni Mubarak.

Notwithstanding the title of this post and the historical analogy, it is auspicious that the new Egyptian Revolution spared the lives of so many people (including Mr. Mubarak’s). Great praise is due unto the Egyptian High Command, whose refusal to interfere with (and even tacit support for) the protestors assured that outcome.

But in the million mile march to prosperity and democracy, Egyptians have taken a few small (nevertheless important) steps. Now, they have to create a free and just political and economic system so that their country will never again be ruled by a modern-day pharaoh.

The first thing that Egypt’s current leadership, the Supreme Military Council, can do is to abrogate the 44-year-old emergency law. Briefly suspended in 1980 but in constant effect since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat, Mr. Mubarak’s predecessor, the state of emergency has been the root of Egypt’s many ills: restricting citizens’ rights, press censorship, and mass arrests. If anything, Mr. Mubarak’s ouster has demonstrated that the emergency law is not worth the paper on which it was written. Citizens did come together and did overthrow the man that the emergency law was supposed to protect.

Next, instead of calling early elections, Egypt should convene a convention of wise men (and women!) to amend the constitution. This convention should include all social groups: representatives of political parties (including the Muslim Brotherhood), labor unions, farmers’ groups, professional associations, business groups, Coptic Christians, and religious scholars from Al-Azhar University (without the ulama’s support, the new system will be in trouble).

Luckily, if the emergency law is abrogated by then, the constitutional convention won’t have too much to do because the letter of the Egyptian constitution is reasonably democratic. Aside from changing articles 73 through 85, which regulate the vast powers of the president, strengthening the language of judiciary regulations (especially getting rid of Article 171 about “State Security Courts”) and freedom of enterprise (which will require changing article 24 that gives the people the right to “control all means of production and direct their surplus in accordance with the development plan laid down by the state”) should have priority. These changes will release the creative energies of Egyptian people who will do a much better job than Egypt’s state-run economy – all the while preserving the constitution’s egalitarian spirit.

Finally, as stated in Article 189 of the Egyptian constitution, the amendments should be taken to a popular referendum. Beyond a legal necessity, a popular referendum will remind the people that the new political order is something they signed up to. When something goes wrong in the future (as they frequently do in every country – political crises, corruption scandals, economic downturns, etc.), Egyptians will know that they were the ones who chose the current political system.

Let us hope that the new revolution will produce a different result than the one Egypt had in 1952 when army officers overthrew King Farouk with the promise of prosperity and democracy. In a few years, under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser – who had good intentions, it must be said – Egypt became a one-man dictatorship, with tragic results.

“Development through democracy” deserves a real chance in Egypt this time.

Barın Kayaoğlu is a Ph.D. candidate in history at The University of Virginia. He welcomes all comments, questions, and exchanges. To contact him, click here.

You can also follow him on Twitter (@barinkayaoglu) and Facebook (BarınKayaoğ

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