As I write this post thousands of protesters in Tahrir are under a barrage of tear gas fighting with steely determination to maintain control over the square. I struggle to maintain my focus as I constantly check on safety of my friends. While many continue to lose life and limb it is becoming patently clear that the supreme council of the armed forces (SCAF) MUST step down from political office. This is not a matter for academic debate or national referendum. It is a self evident fact that demands but a grain of sense and a smidgen of basic human decency. How can political leadership that brutally murders those who disagree with it policies be trusted with democratic transformation? How can SCAF’s head, Tantawy, be any position to make promises to the Egyptian people while his forces are engaged in pitched battles with those who are doing their best to keep there protest as peaceful as possible? SCAF’s sins are too numerous to recount and if one was ridiculously generous it would put down due to gross incompetence, though many now see their actions are treasonous.
SCAF’s quick departure is now a forgone conclusion. The protesters will settle for nothing less. The question is how? What we need is a rapid and orderly transfer of power. In order to do that the following issues must be addressed:
- SCAF’s hold on power.
- The process by which SCAF’s replacement will have legitimacy.
- The system in place that would insure that the process of democratic transition will go smoothly and be subject to public scrutiny.
Before Tantawy’s speech and the massive tear gas attack that followed, the collective mind of Tahrir was engaged in deep consideration of those issues through thousands of discussion around the square. Many of those discussion were held with the utmost seriousness and sense of urgency. Those precious moments today in Tahrir were only sustained by the hemorrhaging of the country’s bravest and noblest on entrances of Tahrir. I will attempt here to present my perspective on the ideas that have been put forth. We need to crystallize a consensus on those issues soon. We can not afford to lose initiative at this crucial point in time.
SCAF’s hold on power
Without a doubt SCAF will not step down easy. Each member of SCAF probably has loads of skeletons in their closet. They are also burdened by glaring present sins. Their apparent fumbling with the process of democratic transition seem to have been put themselves in a privileged political position that would make them immune to any form of scrutiny. They were trying to do this will peddling a very adulterated faux democracy.
The principled revolutionary would argue that we can not let them get away with their crimes. However, the cost of doing that might be too expensive. We risk the following:
- Pitched battles with army with the wide scale destruction that would ensue
- A coup d’etat that would results in either a new dictator power or
at the very least a very serious threat to Egypt’s national security
- Civil war with those whose who have put all of the marbles in SCAF lap (hint: many Islamists)
It hence seems that the rational (though definitely not moral) thing to do is to declare full amnesty to SCAF members, we should give them a clean a smooth exist. As Sun Tzu would put it
Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across
The structure and legitimacy of the new transitional authority
Many are talking about presidential council and putting forth names. There seems to be a consensus on this as way the forward. However the mechanism for selecting members for this council is not clear. Some say, lets through in all the current presidential hopefuls. Anything but SCAF.
However, without a clear mechanism for selecting that council, the country will be incapacitated by serious bickering. Many indolent pundits will call it the “dictatorship of Tahrir”. Democracy often needs a bit of bootstrapping and there is many instances were it starts of by undemocratic means. However, we will need to concede even to those who like to put revolutionaries who are shedding blood for new Egypt and politicly complacent couch potatoes on equal footing. We can not afford to be patronising, even to arm chair analysts who are often drawing their information from the SCAF controlled Goebbelsian
Hence what is need is an elected council. This could be done by a ranked voting
The downside of the presidential council is that the decision making process is likely to be lengthy. The upside is that as an outcome of the election the council will have representatives from all the major Egyptian political streams and that (with a bit of luck) they could lay the foundations of consensus that will be essential for our new constitution.
The mandate of this council would be to primarily:
1. Lay down the foundations for democratic transition
2. Rebuild/Reform the ministry of interior
3. Establish confidence necessary political and economic stability
An alternative to this scenario is to just elect a new transitory president with a two year term. Unity of command will allow for rapid decision making and will spare us fractionation which we do not need at this point. The president with the exact same mandate as the council a s/he will be able be the face of Egypt in the next couple of years and conduct delicate negotiations with foreign powers in a
manner that presidential council might not achieve. I am more in favour of that
option, though the idea has yet to gain sufficient currency.
Without enough transparency and without a modicum of checks and balances, the new president/council are likely to go wayward and more instability will ensue. Normally, a parliament job is to do exactly that. However, I am doubtful that our first parliament will be up to the task (the reasons are worthy of lengthy post). It is hence my believe that a minimal degree of direct democracy will be needed. This may be achieve by a requisite IT infrastructure that will include
- Expressing group concerns and voting on them.
- Voting on specific policies that put forth by the president/council
- Summarising and clustering the various opinions to detect festering problem areas.
The president/council must answer to top concerns presented by system on weakly basis. They might be a bit of hand-waving, but I believe we should get the best management, political science and IT experts in the country to build such a system.
To sum up
We should call for:
- A quick departure with amnesty for SCAF
- An elected president or presidential council (we have to decide on which one we would perfer)
- A system that would allow for direct democracy in parallel with parliament (to be worked out will the presidential election are taking place)
I urge my readers to share this if they believe it to be worthy, or expresses the objections or comments below.