Opinion | Columnists

Time to wipe the slate clean

Mohamed Al Baradei writes: consider the steps that lie ahead, and think, with renewed determination: we have sowed the seeds for a new Egypt, but it is not enough; we must nurture and grow the plant.

  • Financial Times
  • Published: 00:00 February 28, 2011
  • Gulf News

Time to wipe the slate clean
  • Image Credit: Niño Jose Heredia/©Gulf News
  • Egypt’s awakening has spread hope across the Arab world. The courage shown by the Libyan people risking everything for their freedom is only the latest incredible example.

Every morning for the past week, I have awoken with the same thought: I have witnessed a miracle; we have toppled a dictator. Then I consider the steps that lie ahead, and think, with renewed determination: we have sowed the seeds for a new Egypt, but it is not enough; we must nurture and grow the plant.

Egypt's awakening has spread hope across the Arab world. The courage shown by the Libyan people risking everything for their freedom is only the latest incredible example. But to realise this vision of Egypt's "Second Republic" — a democracy rooted in social justice, equal opportunity, respect for human rights and other universal values — is an enormous, complex undertaking. Egypt, under Hosni Mubarak, had deteriorated to the status of a failed state. We must wipe the slate clean and start again.

Economic reality is far from encouraging for western countries that have few options in reacting to what is an increasingly fluid situation. They are essentially bystanders to developments in countries where protests are in their early phases, writes Mohammad Al Erian.

The transition before us is critical. Democracy is more than a ballot box. As much as Egyptians treasure their military, acting alone it cannot provide the legitimacy to lay the foundations for democracy.

So far the army has been leading the "transition" in an opaque and exclusive manner. It has not courted any faction of Egyptian society, other than to meet selectively with a few young people whose names have gained notice. It has not outlined a plan or timeline for how the transition will lead to a democratic state.

This has me — like many of my young colleagues — worried. Shaking hands with a couple of young men and billing the result as a youth revolution is far from sufficient. The path to democracy must be inclusive, with its goal being the full transformation of Egypt. To progress constructively from Days of Rage to Days of Rebuilding, we urgently need four building blocks to be set in place:

First, there should be a provisional constitution guaranteeing equal rights and basic freedoms and outlining the purposes and limited authorities of the transitional government. This should be designed explicitly to carry the country past a defined set of milestones. The existing constitution entrenched the old regime, with imperial powers for the president, a non-representative parliament and a quasi-independent judiciary. At the very least, the effort to patch up the old constitution must make it clear this is a temporary move until a new democratic constitution is drafted and adopted through a constitutional assembly.

Second, a three-person presidential council should be formed to lead the transition. Two of its members should be civilians, neither of whom should have ties to the old regime. The third should be from the military. This council will be the first step towards inspiring collective trust that Egypt is moving in the right direction. The army should be the guarantor of security during this transition. But it should not be in the driver's seat; for effective governance, it needs the partnership of civilian leaders to ensure the aspirations of the people are fairly represented and upheld.

Third, there should be a caretaker government of highly qualified people of unquestionable integrity, to provide the continuation of basic services, replacing elements of the old regime that have lost credibility. This government should nurture the formation of strong institutions that make up the backbone of civil society. Most importantly, it should put in place the structures to pave the way for free and fair elections.

This transitional body should be for at least a year — not six months as currently proposed. We must give new political parties time to organise themselves and engage with society. A rushed transition will only benefit existing parties and groups, leaving the silent majority still absent from the political scene, and leading to non-representative, skewed elections.

Fourth, all residual instruments of the outgoing dictatorship should be abolished. The emergency law, which suffocated the country for 30 years, should be repealed immediately — as should edicts restricting the formation of political parties, forbidding the right to assembly, or constraining the freedom of the press. Political detainees should be released from prison.

Gaining credibility

Some have voiced concern about the role the Muslim Brotherhood would play. This misconception should be set straight. The Brotherhood in Egypt is a religiously conservative, but non-violent group. It has gained credibility for providing social services where the Mubarak government failed. It has also committed publicly to participating in a civil — not a religious — state and to the principles of equal rights irrespective of religion. While I do not share the Brotherhood's religious views, I foresee it being part of a democratic political process. It is supported by a sizeable minority and should be represented, with other groups — socialists, liberals, etc — under a constitution that establishes the civil nature of the state and guarantees the right to representative government.

What I have outlined is not my vision, per se; it is a vision shared by a robust majority of Egyptians, including the many youth groups with whom I have been working closely for more than a year. Our vision of a "Second Republic" is of a modern, moderate Egypt. Its democratic institutions must be equipped with the structures and leadership that will enable us to catch up with the rest of the world in science and technology, to provide opportunities for the 40 per cent of our citizens who live in poverty and to educate the 30 per cent who are illiterate. This will take time but we must get it right.

The dream of democracy has long been enshrined in the hearts of the Egyptian people. It only needed awakening. Our young people created the spark and all of Egypt has embraced their leadership to build a beacon, spreading hope throughout the Arab world, most recently in Libya.

This is only the beginning.

- Mohamed Al Baradei,  Former International Atomic Energy Agency chief

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