Friday, October 14, 2011

A Letter to Egypt In November

A Few More Ideas From an Old American

A Revolution's Growing Pains

First, be constantly certain that everyday Americans are watching your progress.  Quite aside from the diplomats and the other faces of America you may see, the people here in the towns, farms, villages and cities are fascinated with the news of Egypt's emergence.  Whatever our government may be doing, our hearts are with you.

Notably, your present concern about the continuing role of the Egyptian military comes to the fore.

We all remember the comforting development of "turning over" the remnants of your old government to the military.  In our US news media we were told repeatedly that the Egyptian military was respected and trusted by the citizens of its country.  We were relieved and heartened when your military declined to impose the violent ambitions of the the old autocrat against the Egyptians during the revolution in the streets.

However, we also see -- now -- your growing suspicions about that same military as the days and weeks of Egypt's efforts to ascend into democracy unfold.  This MeanMesa post focuses precisely on this matter.

End the Waiting

The tedious schedule of establishing a government, writing an Egyptian Constitution and transferring social control to civilians seems like a long one.  At least, it seems like a long one when viewed from the comfort and security of our American living rooms.

From the most recent events in the streets of Cairo, it clearly seems that Egyptians see it as a suspiciously long one as well.  The rate at which the Egyptian military is proceeding is not one which inspires great confidence about the final outcome of the revolution.

There's little argument that instituting all sorts of civil authority and capacity is a daunting task.  Understandably, the Egyptian military continues to offer up this explanation as to why things must move so slowly.

When the scope of this undertaking is compared to the comfortably established social structures we see in the US, all the myriad of details and resolutions grows to an almost confounding size.  Yet, one thread which runs through the heart of this task is not so complicated, that is, difficult, perhaps, but still remarkably straight forward.


If indeed a "mis-step" has occurred, it arises from the subconsciousness inertia remaining after the old, authoritarian scheme of governance.  Under that system, Egyptians grew accustomed to "waiting" for the responses of the autocracy.  Granted, this "waiting" grew so onerous as to result in the Egyptian revolution, but the habit may have proved to be more durable than first expected.

Now, Egyptians have reverted to this old plan.  Now, Egyptians are, once again, "waiting" for the advent of the government they were dreaming of when they risked life and limb in Tahrir Square in January.  This latest "waiting" seems out of character for the brave Egyptian revolutionaries.

Interim Government - The Hazard and The Prize

What is proposed here is a rapid establishment of an interim, civilian government as quickly as possible -- certainly on a schedule far faster than what is currently proposed by the military.  The first, formidable concession necessary for the idea is that whatever is created this way will be imperfect.  

The course set out by the military is, at least ostensibly, a cautious one presented as a plan to retain the new civilian power accomplished in revolution.  All sorts of precautions are included to produce a final result which guarantees the civilian nature of the future government.  This is the promise which justifies the military's two or three year schedule.

Make no mistake.  There is a lot which must be done.

However, there may be an equally important interim task.  The Egyptian people should move at once to establish an interim civilian authority which can run concurrently with the military efforts.  It is interim because it is temporary, and even the "authority" element can be equally transitive.  Nonetheless, there must be a representative voice of the Egyptian people running along side the military effort.

Here, MeanMesa can offer the skeleton of a plan.  Happily, it is a plan which will require no more "waiting" for the acquiescence of the Egyptian military for it to move forward.  The basic elements of the plan are fairly simple.

First, divide the country's population into local council districts, each with a standard population, say something between 250,000 and 500,000 people.  There will be the predictable inclinations to refine such groups into segregated interests, ethnic majorities and the like, but, for the time being, dispatch all these and allow simple geographic boundaries to govern the division lines.

The goal here will be to elect a standard sized council to speak for the district.  Remember that we have spoken already about a voice beyond that of the military which can represent the people directly.  A good size for such a council might be ten representatives or so.

Next, make a list of those who will vote in each of these districts, and make all the necessary preparations for elections.  It is important to start having candidates who are willing to lead such district councils and having elections which will make their positions legitimate.

The authority of such councils will not be given over to them or granted to them by the military.  In fact, there is little prospect that the Egyptian military will immediately begin to "follow" the directives of decisions coming from such councils, but what will be accomplished is the voice of electorates.  This is what is missing at the moment.

This is the "next step" which is required to break the status quo.

Once in place, the councils can begin to do the job of representing the Egyptians under the beautiful democratic duress of being replaced in the next election.  Local problems can be addressed, even if they can't be solved.  Resources can be applied to local interests far more directly.

Perhaps even more important, candidates for the new Parliament will emerge.  Ideas about the new Egyptian Constitution can begin to move from council to council.  Egyptians will begin to grow accustomed to campaigning, serving and voting.  

All these things are subject to improvement through practice and experience.  It will be precisely this experience which will direct Egypt to its future.  There is only so much that even the most determined and democratically inspired military officers can add to the mix.  This is not their world.

The End of "Interim"

The coming months of the revolution will see many changes implemented.  The origin and inspiration of these "institutional" changes will be deep in the military minds of the many of the same people who served in the late autocrat's oppression of the Egyptian people.

So far, this "arrangement of necessity" has not gone too badly at all.  However, what lies directly ahead may be even more critical than what has gone on so far.  The electricity of the revolution has calmed a bit, and those with the "old ambitions" have had a chance to quietly consider schemes to either return to that old system or to exploit the new one.

Every Egyptian who votes for a council must understand that the arrangement is temporary, but also, that it is vitally necessary.  There is a growing vacuum.  Citizens know what they don't want but may need to experiment a little to discover what they do want.

A new democracy is no place for the timid.

You have the highest hopes and the very best wishes for your future from MeanMesa.

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