Al-Ahram Weekly   Al-Ahram Weekly
2 - 8 December 1999
Issue No. 458
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875 Issues navigation Current Issue Previous Issue Back Issues

Front Page

Of democracy, freedom and globalisation

By Gamal Essam El-Din

Political analysts were taken by surprise when Ahmed Fathi Sorour, speaker of the People's Assembly, said last Thursday that the individual candidacy system would be retained in next year's parliamentary elections. "It is not on the agenda of the government, either at present or in the future, to amend the electoral law to reintroduce the slate system in the next parliamentary elections. Any debate in this respect is mainly based on speculation," he said.

Sorour's announcement reversed an earlier statement in which he had argued in favour of the slate system, which obligates the candidates of each political party to run collectively on a single slate in each constituency. Sorour, however, conceded that "elections are rife with negative practices and efforts should be made to correct them."

Addressing a symposium entitled "Freedom and the information media in the next century", organised by the Al-Ahram Regional Press Institute, Sorour urged opposition parties not to boycott next year's parliamentary elections. "It is true that the number of opposition party representatives in the People's Assembly is small, but this is because these parties have long been in favour of boycotting elections. If they are now anxious to have a larger number of representatives in the next parliament, they should stop boycotting elections and embark upon new strategies to promote their popularity with the people. In this case, each opposition party will be certain to win more than five seats," Sorour said.

He also expressed hope that a larger number of women would stand in the next parliamentary elections. "Women should fight for the right to gain parliamentary membership," he said.

Sorour, however, was adamant that one half of the seats of the next parliament be reserved for workers and peasants. "The 50 per cent which was earmarked for them by the constitution is not against democracy because this proviso assures a wide sector of social classes a say in politics," he asserted.

Sorour insisted that the political system is democratic. "This was enshrined in the constitution and affirmed by the Supreme Constitutional Court. The latter is the guardian of democracy and freedom in this country. It is also the guardian of human rights because it acts as an honest watchdog of all government decrees and regulations that may later turn out to be repressive in terms of human rights or violate constitutional provisions," Sorour said.

He also emphasised that press freedom is one of the cornerstones of democracy in any country. "In this respect, I advocate lifting all restrictions which stand in the way of licensing new newspapers," he said.

On a more general level, Sorour warned that globalisation poses a grave threat to democracy and freedom in the developing world. "First, globalisation seems to be mainly concerned with securing the interests of multinational corporations and business tycoons. This will adversely affect the progress of freedom and democracy in developing countries and undermine their independence and national identity in favour of a market economy and quick profit. Globalisation also poses a great threat to the deeply-rooted cultural and intellectual patterns of life in these developing countries," said Sorour.

In this respect, he singled out American culture as the greatest danger to the culture of those countries which boast ancient civilisations. "Globalisation gives American culture a great opportunity to impose its hegemony over the world. For this reason, it is highly important that tremendous efforts be made to protect the Egyptian, Arab and Islamic cultures against this foreign invasion," he said.

Citing the American, French and German education systems present in Egypt, Sorour said, "This is why there is a pressing need to arm our children with large doses of the Arabic language and culture to blunt the effects of this foreign education on their national character. We also have to strengthen their sense of belonging and draw their attention to the dangers of globalisation."

He warned that developed nations use human rights as an excuse to intervene in the internal affairs of developing countries. "This principle [of human rights] is deplorably used to undermine the rights of several peoples, especially the people of Iraq," Sorour added.

Sorour was asked if he thought that the constitution, which was promulgated in 1971 to protect the socialist policies espoused by the government at the time, was still viable despite the switch to a market economy. In his response, Sorour said, "All Egyptians should be proud of the constitution. It does not reflect socialism in dogmatic terms but affirms that Egypt is a social democracy. This is why the Supreme Constitutional Court has argued that the word 'socialism' no longer means the state's intervention in the national economy. It now means the protection of social classes against the ravages of a market economy."

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