Reading Hani Shukrallah on what Egypt does now

Following the euphoria of having upended the old regime, now the task of creating a new form of government begins.  But the challenge is greater than merely appointing a new head of state or holding elections; the whole nizam has been disfigured by the corrupting force of the last three decades and needs to be dismantled, then built anew.  This is an enormous undertaking, with many opportunities for selfish positioning at odds with the selflessness of the revolution, but Hani Shukrallah writing in Al Ahram lays out a comprehensive (and ideologically neutral) list of initial tasks.  Some of the key tasks on his list are:

1. Don’t fight ghosts. By this Shukrallah means, don’t fear a military takeover just because the military took power in the 1952 revolution.  This is largely because what happened in 1952 might more reasonably be called a “revolution” in quotes, since it was really a coup d’état with nothing like the mass participation of recent days.  Steve Negus — with whom I used to work at the Cairo Times — has a take on this fear too in The Arabist and the most compelling of his arguments is that the military did not create this moment so they have no mandate for a continuing role in governance.  All true, but the fear (or at least my fear) is better articulated this way: the military is the only institution to have been both enormously privileged in the old system and to have a popularly accepted privileged position to shape the new system.  That is a situation fraught with unwelcome possibilities.

4. Prosecute police and NDP crimes and overhaul domestic security apparatus. Shukrallah write, “Over the past two weeks we have seen what the internal security apparatus – allied to NDP top officials and oligarchs, and jointly running a huge network of criminal gangs – is capable of. Over the past 30 years, under the protection of a continuing state of emergency and the pretext of fighting terrorism, the domestic security apparatus has been brutalized and corrupted to such an extent, it is effectively a giant lawless militia, handing out torture, murder at will. We must not forget that the revolution was, in large part, triggered by the behavior of this apparatus.”  Or, as he later puts it more succinctly, no “democracy of any kind [is] even remotely possible in the presence of such a security apparatus.”

6. A provisional constitution and bill of rights. This is necessary, but I would say Shukrallah does not take it far enough.  The legalistic stalling tactics about constitutional procedure that the regime employed in its last few days as if bound by its requirements belied a truth widely known: the constitution had long since failed to guarantee meaningful legal rights to anyone outside the regime itself.  The existing constitution was not written to constrain government action or prevent the abuse of its citizens and incremental improvement through amendments is not likely to prove sufficient.  The political revolution needs a legal revolution equal to its values and moral force.  It also needs a reformed judiciary to enforce the provisions of this new constitution: a great many judges performed their duties quite honorably through the dark years but others bent to the will of those in power, a habit that needs to change.

9. A youth party. I can’t see this one being realized, at least as anything other than a temporary, transitional measure.  Founding a youth party would seem to reflect the extraordinary role played by the young in the revolution, but their very success has already rendered it obsolete.  Going into the revolution, the young constituted a distinct political constituency not because youth itself is an ideology but because the old had either achieved political positions by compromising with the regime or — the vast majority — had seen their political aspirations asphyxiated by the regime’s insular monopoly of power.  A true, open, participatory political process would liberate the old, much as sheer frustration had the young; the end result, then, is likely to be inter-generational political parties that break down on ideological lines rather than age, in part because of the institutional challenge of sustaining a permanent youth party that is constantly losing its constituency to the passage of time.


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