We need the constitution first
By Amina Shafiq
In the 18-day span between 25 January and 11 February, Egypt was awash with this splendid word: democracy. Everyone spoke about democracy, but few agreed on its substance. Actually, the ousted regime also spoke a lot of democracy, and it claimed that the country had democracy, just because it had something resembling a multi-party system and a somewhat free press. Even before that, president Anwar El-Sadat, who dissolved the Arab Socialist Union in 1976 and allowed three parties to emerge, definitely thought of himself as a paragon of democracy.
Today, the Muslim Brotherhood says that writing a constitution ahead of elections is undemocratic. For the Brotherhood, democracy is what the country experienced on the day the referendum on constitutional amendments was held. The fact that the amendments were drafted by a non- elected committee and that the voters were asked to vote on the amendments as a package deal didn't seem to bother them. What mattered is that the voters showed up and that their votes were not rigged.
To sum up, democracy was for the deposed regime little more than having a multi-party system, and for the Brotherhood it is little more than having ballot boxes that are not tampered with.
True democracy, if you ask me, is a lot more. It is the sum of values and practices that allow a nation to exercise its unfettered will and defend its rights.
To have democracy, you need laws that protect private and public freedom. You need parties that believe in the rotation of power. You need a government that allows the opposition to speak up. And you need laws that protect labour unions and civil society organisations. When all forms of discrimination over gender, race and religion disappear, and when human rights are upheld, we will have credible democracy.
We need a full-fledged and liberal democracy, not one that is reduced to having multiple parties or free elections. Therefore, I am all for writing the constitution first. What this country needs is a new legitimacy, one that protects liberal democracy and one that is enshrined into the constitution.
This week's Soapbox speaker is a senior writer at Al-Ahram .