Normative Narratives

Conflict Watch: Egypt (Update)

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Merry X-mas! Goodwill amongst men should mean there are no conflicts to watch, but of course in real life things are not so simple.

Egypt passed a constitutional referendum in a two part vote over the past two weeks. The constitution has been challenged by the opposition as being too open to interpretation and not explicit enough in its human rights guarantees. Having not seen the charter, I cannot comment on this. Islamist supporters argue that although the opposition did not participate in drafting the document (by choice, not because they were not invited), it is fair for all Egyptians.

I will say this; even the U.S. constitution has many clauses that are open for interpretation. How law evolves depends on how the judiciary interprets the constitution—it can be amended. Any legal document is going to be open to interpretation; this is not a good argument against the Egyptian constitutions legitimacy.

The referendum only got about 30% voter turnout. Some people will point to this and say the constitution is illegitimate because of this low turnout. However, the transition to democracy has been filibustered at every given opportunity by Morsi’s opposition. The still-Mubarak-backed-courts challenge Morsi’s legitimacy and dissolved a democratically elected parliament. The opposition refuses to even come to the bargaining table to have its demands heard (in my mind further hurting their legitimacy).

Now the opposition has decided since it cannot win in a vote, it will not vote. This is not how democracy works; as long as the right to vote is not restricted, it is legitimate. Knowing you cannot win and abstaining is the equivalent of forfeiting. If you forfeit something you lose it—the constitutions legitimacy cannot be challenged on low voter turnout because it was a choice, not a result of discrimination in suffrage.

It remains to be seen what type of leader Morsi will be. I believe Egypt is a dynamic country where democracy can lead to great wealth and prosperity. Morsi simply wants to be the person responsible for this modernization—that is his “selfish” goal, to be remembered as an important political leader and a modernizer of the Muslim Brotherhood.

For democracy to work, the will of the majority must be tempered to ensure the rights of the minority. It is understandable that the minority in Egypt is scared, as they have never experienced a functioning democracy which upholds people’s rights indiscriminately. Democracy must be given a chance, and only in its functionality can it be judged.

I hope my gut feeling that Morsi is a legitimate leader is correct. It is certain that Egypt is moving in the right direction. I leave you with this quote of a regular Egyptian citizen to support this claim:

“I am 45 years old,” he said, and the post-Mubarak transition “[this] is the first time I have voted.”

“I think the referendum is beautiful.”


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