“Throughout the post-colonial period, Egypt has established the political template that has been widely emulated throughout the region,” he notes. “From pan-Arabism to Islamism, Egypt’s model has always defined Arab politics.”
Egypt will elect a new president by the end of the year, shortly after parliamentary elections scheduled for September, the ruling military council announced today.
The new parliament will spend up to a year in drafting a new constitution a process that could take a year or more. A new constitutional committee of up to 200 people would be formed next week to prepare provisions in advance.
The military’s commitment to a rapid transition process has prompted complaints that the schedule benefits established political groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and power blocs linked to the former ruling national Democratic Party at the expense of newly emerging democratic forces. Some analysts suggest that the Islamists and the military have entered an unspoken pact to contain the liberalizing impact of the youth, labor, women’s and civil society groups that drove the Jasmine Revolution.
Yet there are signs that liberal and secular forces are preparing to confront Islamists in the forthcoming elections.
Two secular parties this week merged to form a Social Democratic Party, including eminent public figures, such as Cairo University professor Mohamed Abul Ghar, political analyst Emad Gad, writer/translator Fatima Naaot and Dr. Khaled Montasser.
“We are a liberal party that promotes free market policies, and we insist on a good social program for the poor people of Egypt,’ said Ghar. The party’s “paramount concern” is to ensure a secular, civil state.
Another founding member, political scientist Amr Hamzawy (above, center), called on other liberal groups to follow suit.
“Post-revolution society is not formed yet,” said Hamzawy, a senior researcher at the Carnegie Endowment, suggesting that there is still time for democratic forces to shape the new political settlement.
But amendments to the political parties’ law appear designed to disadvantage newly emerging groups by raising the number of founding members required from 50 to 1,000.
The new law is “terribly bad,” said Samer Soliman, a political science professor with the American University in Cairo. “It was written by a committee that did not represent different factions of Egyptians, and in the meantime there was no transparency. This committee should have held all its talks in public.”
The new provisions and the rapid transition process will reinforce the established power blocs, activists contend.
“We do not have fundamental objections against the law, other than the number of members required,” said Shady Harb, a representative of the 25 January Revolution Youth Coalition.
“With this law and with parliamentary elections scheduled for September, they put us in a big trouble,” he said. “Time is too short to declare new parties that can run for parliament.”
Democracy advocates also note a number of provisions designed to benefit established political forces, including a 50 percent quota of parliamentary seats reserved for “farmers and workers.”
The ruling military junta has approved a draft law that imposes prison sentences on striking workers in violation of international conventions on freedom of assembly. The law criminalizes any strikes, demonstrations, sit-ins and other forms of collective action that impede private- or state-owned businesses or damage the economy.
“It’s quite shocking, really, that a transitional government meant to replace a government ousted for its failure to respect free speech and assembly is now itself putting new restrictions on free speech and assembly,” said Human Rights Watch.
Strikes are “a legitimate right, recognized within international agreements that should be respected by authorities,” said a statement signed by more than 30 human rights and civil society groups, which condemned the draft law as an undemocratic departure from the values of the Jasmine revolution.
Activists are organizing a large rally in Cairo on Friday “to protect the revolution.”
“The only concrete accomplishment is that there is no Mubarak and no Gamal,” said George Ishak, a leading figure in the Kifaya movement, part of the coalition that brought down President Hosni Mubarak and opposed moves to transfer power to his son.
The tight transition timetable is likely to undermine prospects for genuine democratization and for a robust pluralist party system.
“We need at least a year to raise awareness and prepare the people for elections. Political awareness and engagement is currently lacking,” said Esraa Abdel Fattah, a prominent activist with the Egyptian Democratic Academy.
“If the United States wants to help, there needs to be a balance between military aid and that to civil society. We need help with this coming phase. Talk is not enough,” she said.
She recently said as much to visiting US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Hillary responded positively to what I had to say….Although she didn’t have firm responses, she took general criticism well,” Esraa told Cairo-based journalist Yasmine El Rashidi.
The recent referendum on proposed constitutional amendments gave cause for concern, Rashidi writes, with the evident collusion between the Muslim Brotherhood and the former ruling National Democratic Party confirming that authoritarian habits die hard:
At the first polling station we entered, we were followed by guards—familiar State Security types—and the police, soldiers, and even the judges overseeing the ballots did little to calm things when dozens of voters started screaming at us to get out. As we left, we tried to speak to some people at the exit, asking them “why Yes?” Their arguments were all the same: “stability.”
Around the corner, at another Shubra polling station, we were met with even more hostility. A Muslim Brother manning the door took our IDs and walked away. When we asked for them back, saying we would leave, he refused, gripping them harder, refusing to explain why. When we vigorously protested, the crowd started yelling that we were “No people.” We finally grabbed our IDs from the man’s hand and quickly left.
‘The sight of the military peacefully yielding to a democratically elected civilian government will have an enduring impact on the region’s struggling reformers,” writes Takeyh.
But the region’s regimes will also be monitoring Egypt’s military as it appears to be engineering a political settlement – Mubarakism without Mubarak – that preserves the interests and institutions of the status quo under a rubric of diluted and distorted democracy.
After sovereign democracy, Bolivarian democracy and democracy with Chinese characteristics, are you ready for Pharaonic democracy?