Egypt's transition to democracy
Faced with fierce resistance to a decree that gave him sweeping powers, Egypt's President Mohammad Morsi has retracted some of its controversial provisions that placed beyond challenge his decisions since assumption of office; and conferred on him the incontestable authority to deal with 'threats to the revolution or the nation'. The market heaved a sigh of relief after the retraction, sending Egyptian stocks 4.4 percent higher.
Copyright Business Recorder, 2012
But the confrontation is not over yet as the president remains adamant to go ahead with the plan to hold referendum on a contentious draft constitution. The opposition has rejected the concession calling for redrafting of the constitution before any vote.
On the face of it, the government has a point when it says referendum is the best test of public opinion; besides, the draft constitution was approved by an elected constituent assembly before it was dissolved by a court order. But then liberals and Christians in the assembly boycotted the marathon session in which the majority Islamists gave their approval to the draft constitution, saying their voice was being ignored. They had legitimate concerns about certain provisions related to freedom of expression and religion. Human Rights Watch in Egypt has also taken issue with those provisions saying "you don't list all things that you're not allowed to do. You're supposed to set up the rights and limitations."
A country's constitution determines and defines not only the rules and roles for different organs of the state but also relations between state and society. Hence it is not enough for any single majority party to put its stamp of approval on a constitutional charter; a consensus, as demanded by Egypt opposition, is necessary. In modern concept of democracy majoritarianism as it pertains to minority rights is an anathema. Whilst majority has an unquestionable right to rule, it must not tyrannise minorities or suppress fundamental rights. It is relevant to recall here that the framers of Pakistan's current constitution enlisted the support of every single party in parliament at the time of its passage in 1973. It has survived two military dictators' temporary dismissals and distortions only because of its consensual status.
Notably, the revolution against three decades of Mubarak's authoritarian rule was spearheaded by liberals and leftists; the Muslim Brotherhood joined in later. These opposition groups are not to blame if they think the revolution is now being hijacked by the Brotherhood. The example of Iran is before them. Arguably, the Iranian Revolution was originally led by leftist-secular forces such as the Mujahideen-e-Khalq and the communist Tudeh party. The Islamists were, at least initially, marginal players in the revolution. Egypt's opposition apparently thinks if it shows any sign of weakness now, the transition to democracy may lead to another form of authoritarianism. More protest rallies are planned in the coming days. Already seven lives have been lost in face-offs between government and opposition demonstrators. Before things get uglier, it is hoped that Morsi will cancel or postpone the December 15 referendum and hold sincere discussions with the opposition in order to arrive at a consensus on the new constitution.