Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1180, (16-22 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

After the constitution

The passage of Egypt’s new constitution would be an important marker, but thereafter all Egyptians must bear the responsibility of building a common future, writes Ayman Abdel-Wahab

Al-Ahram Weekly

Can the ratification of the new constitution mark the real beginning of the construction of a modern democratic state? The question may be foremost in the minds of a large segment of political and social forces, but it is certainly of little concern to other forces, most notably those with Muslim Brotherhood and likeminded leanings who are bent on undermining the 30 June Revolution, forestalling the completion of the roadmap and propelling Egypt towards the conditions of a failed state. In between the two sides there are larger segments of society that care only about what they believe will bring stability and security in order to meet their essential needs for a dignified life. There are, thus, numerous outlooks and approaches that will determine the shape of the Egyptian state in the forthcoming phase.
Stability, a working economy, political consensus, and a reduction in social polarisation are clearly vital to the re-establishment of the state and the creation of a constructive and inspiring environment that propels our country towards the future. Such factors are the requirements for progress and they are crucial at this critical juncture for Egypt. Therefore, it is not sufficient to pay lip service to the ideas of the rule of law and the citizen state, a new social contract, educational reform and the acquisition of knowledge and technology. Words have to be turned into reality. So let us take as the starting point for this the approval of the constitution followed by preparations for presidential and legislative elections in which voters’ decisions will be informed by clear criteria regarding the candidates’ expertise and their capacities for translating the constitution into systems, policies and practices that will empower our society with the dynamism to move forward into the future.
While determining the timing and priorities of future development will require surveys of public opinion trends and outlooks, there is little doubt that a large turnout to the referendum and a large vote in favour of the constitution will produce concrete results on the ground. For one, it will enable the completion of the roadmap to the future through the subsequent steps — presidential and parliamentary elections that will bring an end to the interim phase at the scheduled time. In addition, the electorate’s approval of the constitution would convey a number of implicit and explicit messages. Firstly, it would pronounce a definitive end to the period of Muslim Brotherhood rule. Secondly, it would affirm majority support for constitutional improvements pertaining to the nature of the Egyptian state and the system of rights it upholds. Thirdly, it would make explicit Egyptian public opinion on the current state of chaos, the fight against terrorism and the battle against the prospect of a failed state. Fourthly, the three previous messages combined will deliver a powerful message to international powers and international and regional public opinion regarding Egyptian determination to complete the roadmap and move forward.
Much rests with the degree of public awareness and the extent of the people’s desire to continue to participate actively in the implementation of the roadmap, drawing on the store of civilisational assets, aspects of which were tangibly manifested in the mass movements of 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013. In spite of the anxieties that many feel at present, or the widely felt dismay at the decline in economic and social circumstances, the fact that Egyptians can be counted on to unite in decisive and precarious moments says a lot about the Egyptian character.
 The grassroots movement with its revolutionary banners gave voice to a number of rights issues substantially related to the degree of awareness of the requirements for building the state and society, and casting into relief the correlation between development and the process of broadening the scope of people’s choices for a dignified life and between this and the prerequisites of democracy. This may conflict with many of the negative phenomena that have taken place during the past three years, which reflect a lack of revolutionism in the Egyptian character, in spite of the fact that Egyptians have undertaken many revolutions. Perhaps the explanation for this resides in the distinction between igniting revolution and accommodating to a revolutionary state or condition, which is to say that Egyptians are inclined more towards reform and readjustment than to revolt or violent change. Whatever the case, the past three years have harboured numerous contradictions and paradoxes which were reflected in the behaviour of the masses, whether in the expression of their anger and their toppling of two regimes, or in their attempt to accommodate to the revolutionary condition in the country with all its advantages and disadvantages.
The awakening of the Egyptian people and Egyptian youth above all, their drive to rally around revolutionary aims and reformist demands, notably “Bread, freedom, social justice, human dignity, national independence”, plus their determination to protect their revolution and its aspirations by acting in mass to rectify the failures of the 25 January Revolution with the 30 June Revolution raises the question as to whether this dynamism of rallying together, acting in solidarity and communal assumption of responsibility can be repeated in the service of other national aims and interests. It simultaneously raises the question as to whether it is possible to transcend social contradictions, personal interests and political ambitions to a degree that will make it possible to rebuild the Egyptian character and system of social values and free them of defects and distortions.
In this regard, it is useful to give pause to a number of dangerous and pernicious social and behavioural phenomena and trends that are indicative of behavioural deterioration and an upheaval in values: rising crime rates, the decline in the values of tolerance and acceptance of the other, and the rise in religious fanaticism that is reflected in the state of anger, political fluidity and social polarisation, not to mention the proliferation of terrorism. These and other negative phenomena, such as rising rates of addiction or widespread apathy, are the direct by-product of a number of factors, foremost among which are declining rates of human development, poor resource management, the spread of poverty and increasing social and individual disempowerment, which is to say the deprivation of people’s rights as citizens to which testify a range of indicators related to human, political, economic, social and cultural rights. Accordingly, it appears that what is required at this stage is to build a collective awareness of communal life and a social awareness of core values and effective policies that will improve the lives of the people.
However, such a crucial awareness and the necessary delineation of responsibilities and roles are contingent on the ability to move forward quickly in the roadmap. Time is of the essence as the longer it takes the greater is the threat to the opportunities for progress and the greater are the costs that will be paid by society and the state. As important as it is to stress the close interrelationship between social, political and cultural plurality, it appears just as important, politically and socially, to underscore the responsibility to preserve social homogeneity and to fuse that diversity and plurality into a single amalgam embodied by the Egyptian personality with all its strength and wealth. Current political tensions, the spread of demagoguery and the polarising effects this has, and the obvious manipulation and exploitation of the people towards political ends, imposes greater responsibility on civil society, which should act to counter attempts to divide and fragment society with efforts to underline pluralism in a single society as a whole. This requires a reassessment of the nature of its responsibilities and functions.
It also necessitates a reassessment of the yield of development plans that were followed and that were proposed, and an examination of ways to redistribute the fruits of the economic growth Egypt experienced before 25 January 2011. In the process, it will be essential to bear in mind the distinction between growth and development, and to underscore the integral relationship between sound governance and human development and the realisation of the basic rights of the people.
In this regard, there are a number of useful indicators. One is the empowerment index that reflects the degree to which development policies are geared to the development of human capacities, and the degree of awareness of the necessity of presenting alternatives to the people in a manner — and to an extent — that has a positive impact on public participation in policy and decision-making. Another is the social responsibility index, which rises in tandem with the growth in grassroots and civil society initiatives and increased social participation in all fields of life. Then there is the social justice index, which measures the degree to which services are justly distributed among the people and to which people have access to the means for a dignified life. In addition to the foregoing, in view of the current situation in the country, there is a need for such indicators as a personal security index, which is to say the extent to which policies and practices protect the individual and reduce social or economic threats to his or her wellbeing and access to the means for a dignified life.
To round out this vision, there remains the responsibility the larger public should bear following the referendum. This responsibility is related to an awareness of the need for effective participation so as to enable the completion of the construction of the institutions of the state, thereby ushering in the end of the interim period. This participation will also remain necessary as the country turns to address the dangers that threaten the Egyptian state and its national security, as well as the battle to acquire the mechanisms and dynamisms of a modern state.

The writer is editor-in-chief of the monthly magazine Ahwal Masriya.

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