Normative Narratives

Transparency Report: Unrest in Egypt and The Democratic Process

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Original article:

“On Friday, Mursi’s Muslim Brotherhood and their allies will gather in Cairo, as will some opposition groups. On Sunday, the opposition hopes millions will heed the call, a year to the day since Mursi became Egypt’s first freely elected leader.

‘I am more determined than ever to go out on June 30 to demand the removal of an absolutely irresponsible president,’ Khaled Dawoud, spokesman for a coalition of liberal parties, said on Thursday after Mursi’s marathon late-night address.

It is hard to gauge how many may turn out but much of the population, even those sympathetic to Islamic ideas, are deeply frustrated by economic slump and many blame the government.”

“Mursi described his opponents as “enemies” and “saboteurs” loyal to the ousted dictator, whose “corruption” had thwarted him and driven the economy into crisis, though he conceded he had made some mistakes and promised reforms.

He also offered talks on “national reconciliation” and changes to a controversial new constitution to end the polarization and paralysis that he said threatened democracy.

Opponents dismissed that as nothing new. Mursi and his allies complain that their opponents, defeated by the highly mobilized Islamist groups in a series of elections last year, are bad losers who have repeatedly snubbed offers to cooperate.”

‘Our demand was early presidential elections and since that was not addressed anywhere in the speech then our response will be on the streets on June 30,’ said Mahmoud Badr, the young journalist behind a petition which has garnered millions of signatures calling on Mursi to quit. ‘I hope he’ll be watching.'”

“Warning ‘violence will only lead to violence’, Mursi urged his opponents to focus on parliamentary elections, which may be held this year, rather than on “undemocratic” demands to overturn his election on the streets: ‘I say to the opposition, the road to change is clear,’ he said. ‘Our hands are extended.'”

I have written many times about the democratic experiment in Egypt here at NN. Egypt is an interesting country, it is the most populous country in the Middle-East, and has a long history of cooperation with Western powers (the U.S. funds the Egyptian military). Egypt’s armed forces will play a crucial role in preventing the Syrian Civil War from turning into a regional conflict (and in maintaining regional security in general). While Turkey is another example of an Islamic state attempting to reconcile democracy and traditional Islamic values, there is something about Egypt’s geographical position that makes it seem like a more robust test of the compatibility of the two ideologies (perhaps Turkey seems European-ized–it is actually seeking EU membership–which may isolate it from more conservative Muslim’s, whereas Egypt is in Africa, which could be more agreeable to those same factions).

For these reasons, alongside the human rights and modernization implications of effective democratic governance, I have been cheering Morsi on in his attempt to bring democracy to Egypt. Sometimes I have been too understanding; Morsi has made mistakes along the way, including targeted violations of the civil rights of his opponents in the name of national security / democracy. President Morsi has owned up to these mistakes, and now seems to have learned what it takes to lead an effective democracy.

Transparency, rule of law, accountability / anti-corruption, personal and societal security, an inclusive and participatory governing process, and the indiscriminate protection of human rights are among the most important aspects of an effective democracy. Morsi has (hopefully) learned that seeking to strengthen the legitimacy of his regime by violating these aspects of democracy, even in the name of national security, is counter-productive. Self-defense is fine, but short of that the opposition must be allowed to assemble. In a religious dictatorship the opposition are terrorists / saboteurs / infidels; in an effective democracy they are simply the opposing political party (again, so long as they use political and not military means to advance their goals). 

So now we have two sides at odds, and in this case I must again take the side of President Morsi, and here is why:

President Morsi has proposed national reconciliation efforts, including making amendments to the constitution (which was open for vote to begin with, the opposition simply refused to participate). He has also proposed the opposition take part in parliamentary elections. Judicial independence has been tricky, as many of the judges in Egypt were assigned under former dictator Hosni Mubarak (packing the courts with his own judges would not ease concerns of a Morsi power-grab either; anyone he appoints, regardless of his background, would be seen by his opponents only as a “Morsi appointee”. Nevertheless, Morsi has offered basically every legitimate democratic avenue available to address the concerns of his opposition.

The opposition, on the other hand, has refused to take part in the democratic process. It will be satisfied with nothing short of Morsi’s removal from office, calling for early presidential elections. Is that any way to establish the credibility of a brand new democratic process, by tossing that process aside instead of trying to work within it? Early elections would undermine the future of democracy in Egypt by setting a bad precedent.

The opposition also continues to emphasize the “15 million signatures it has calling for Morsi’s removal“. Last time I checked, there were 83 million Egyptians, more than half of which are over the legal voting age. Since when has 30-40% of a population been enough to be considered national consensus. If anything the 15 million signature mark–if it is even legitimate–suggests a majority of Egyptians want an end of the political turmoil (with Morsi remaining in power), in order to begin addressing the deteriorating economic and social conditions in Egypt.

So this minority, which refuses to take part in the democratic process, is demanding a step that ultimately undermines the sustainability of democracy in Egypt–thanks but not thanks, I will stick with supporting the imperfect Morsi regime which is at least attempting to make democracy work.

This is not to say that Morsi cannot do things better to ease peoples fears, but the opposition must be willing to come to the table and compromise through democratic channels. One such channel is the National Council For Human Rights in Egypt. Being an “A” rated NHRI (national human rights institution) according to the UN International Coordinating Committee (ICC), the Egyptian council should be a trusted institution in holding the Morsi regime accountable for its human rights duties not only to its constituents but to all Egyptians.

The issue is that the Egyptian NCHR was last reviewed in 2010 (before Morsi came to power), and is not scheduled to be reviewed again until late 2014. In other words, the NHRC has not been reviewed since Morsi has come to power.

The only information I was able to find on the role of the Egyptian NCHR during the Morsi regime comes from the UN Sixty-seventh General Assembly Third Committee 37th Meeting (PM) (November 14th 2012):

MONZER FATHI SELIM (Egypt) said the Council played an important role in supporting States in their primary responsibility to protect all human rights, and it should work to ensure the realization of those rights with full respect to the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in order to avoid the politicization, selectivity and double standards that affected its predecessor.  The report reaffirmed the Council’s important role in building national capacities, monitoring human rights, protecting the human rights of Palestinians and strengthening efforts to combat racism, among other things.”

So according to the Egyptian NHRC, its ability to monitor human rights issues has not be compromised since Morsi took office. However, one could argue there may be a conflict of interest if a Morsi crony is running the show. Therefore, Morsi should invite Human Rights Watch, The Center for Economic and Social Rights, Transparency International–literally every and any intentional human rights based organization that wishes to come–to verify the ability of the NHRC to fulfill its functions. Morsi should also extend an invitation to the ICC to perform a formal UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in the immediate future, instead of waiting almost a year and a half for the scheduled review.

If Morsi takes these steps, it should separate the legitimate opposition from the Mubarak-era vested interests who want Morsi gone for illegitimate reasons. Additionally, the Morsi regime must stop shooting itself in the foot by denying people their human rights, as this feeds into the claims of the opposition and hurts his regimes legitimacy (which it gained by being the first democratically elected regime in modern Egypt).

There are both domestic and international reasons I want democracy to work in Egypt. Have my own desires clouded my judgment? I think I have been pretty even handed in this analysis, but as always I would like the hear what my readers have to think in the comment section!

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8 thoughts on “Transparency Report: Unrest in Egypt and The Democratic Process

  1. The overarching issue on Earth is the centralized power held by privately owned central banks like the Federal Reserve, ECB etc. Until that power to control money is taken away from the few and given to all people of this Earth, any talk of eliminating humanity’s struggles and problems will be fruitless. Time to identify the main cause of human suffering, which is the love of money and power, then true healing for humanity, through oneness and love, will begin.
    Thank you,
    Jerry

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    • Hey Jerry,

      I think calling central banks such as the Fed and the ECB private is a bit of a stretch, I would call them quasi-governmental institutions.

      I disagree with your idea that monetary policy should be placed in the hands of the people. Monetary policy is incredibly technical (as a Master of Economics, I have only ever scratched the surface of monetary policy, as opposed to fiscal policy which tends to be more straightforward). It is also incredibly sensitive, as small changes in interest rates, inflation, unemployment, and peoples expectations of these indicators have huge implications for national and the global economies. I do not think placing this power in the hands of the people is the answer, I think things would be much worse.

      I do agree that central banks should be more people-focused, emphasizing employment over inflation as a general rule for example. As we have seen in the wake of the Great Recession, Quantitative Easing by the Fed Reserve and Bank of Japan have aimed at doing just that. Similarly, the ECB has assumed the role of lender of last resort, shoring up the European economy.

      It is due to their quasi-governmental nature that banks are able to bypass partisan bickering and use their expertise to get done what they have to get done to stimulate national and global economies as governments promulgate class warfare through various austerity / stimulus / taxation debates (textbook economics clearly tells us we should be increasing spending in the face of depressed demand).

      Therefore, I do not believe central banks are the culprits. The culprits are vested interests and the politicians who entrench them. Luckily, the internet (and ICT in general) is a powerful tool to overcome collective action problems that have historically allowed vested interests to remain in power. It is the responsibility of the people of the world to overcome these collective action problems, to understand our interdependence on our fellow man at home and abroad, and elect leaders who will champion sustainable and egalitarian development policies.

      I for one am optimistic that we as a global community can rise to this challenge in the years and decades to come.

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      • I guess first we would need to determine for certain whether the Federal Reserve is privately owned or not. Majority of people believe the Fed is a branch of government like the State Dept or Agriculture Dept.. It is not a public non-profit organization. It is a private organization consisting of corporations which are for profit. It was granted a 100 year charter in 1913 through an act of congress signed into law by Woodrow Wilson. Have you viewed the documentary “The Secret of Oz” by Bill Still? How about “Inside Job” by Charles Ferguson (Academy Award / Best Documentary 2010)? You can find it on YouTube.

        Perhaps because you have obtained a masters in economics I will leave you with the following thought. In 2008 when the destruction began, why were George W. Bush, Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke on every television screen on Earth telling the population of Earth that the “economic sky was falling”? Any person with a minimal of economics knowledge would agree that psychology plays a large part of economic activity. Pardon my French but Bush, Paulson and Bernanke scared the shit out of everyone on Earth. People quit spending and the results are being experienced to this day. I felt at the time that it was a deliberate attempt to sour the economy of the world. It worked.

        I am saying that putting the financial sector in charge of the quantity of money for a country or region is like allowing the big oil corporations to control a country’s or region’s energy policy – regulations, EPA fines etc… Or allowing GM, Ford and Chrysler to control all laws surrounding automobiles, safety etc.. It is allowing the fox to guard the henhouse.

        Your argument that what the Fed does is incredibly complex plays right into the hands of those who have benefitted for 100 years through their control. I watch Ben Bernanke sitting before congress like the Pope and say to myself, “Why are these congressman still kissing this Fed chairman’s ass?” The congress could take the power of private central banks away with political will. The Fed represents vested interests. Not average, everyday people.

        Thank you,
        Jerry

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  2. I think we have very different views of how the Federal Reserve functions. You see that since it is not a 100% public institution, then it somehow must be supporting Wall St. I agree that monetary stimulus money should have been channeled through more people and community friendly financial institutions, such as credit unions, but I do not buy that the Federal Reserve represents big businesses.

    Federal Reserve members are appointed by the President and confirmed by Congress, and are some of the brightest economic minds available. US monetary policy played a huge role in providing liquidity to the global marketplace after the Great Recession. You cannot simply have congressmen, who are much more exposed to vested interests and partisan politics, determining monetary policy. They would not have the technical expertise or the long-term perspective to handle monetary policy. Why did Bernanke say the sky was falling? Maybe to justify unprecedented monetary expansion, which more or less saved the world economy from complete collapse (look at it counter-factually, not how bad was it, but how much worse would it have been had the Fed not provided liquidity to American and global markets?), Now the BoJ and China seem to be loosening the valve, and as the U.S. economy continues to recover, the Fed will be able to tighten monetary policy (as it has stated it would do based on setting benchmarks for both employment and inflation, in order to be transparent and open about what the Fed does). Do you really think a historically incompetent congress could have handled the situation better?

    I am all for financial sector accountability and progressive taxation, but there is a reason the Federal Reserve is independent from the Federal government.

    And I have not seen the documentary yet, but I don’t base my beliefs off one documentary or another anyways.

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  3. At risk of sounding simplistic the Federal Reserve is the U.S. government’s banker. The U.S. government does not need, and would be better off without, the Federal Reserve System. A national structure based on the Bank of North Dakota model would work great There are a number of states moving forward with establishing state banks like North Dakota’s. The control of the quantity of money could be performed by a public service institution of the federal government. Economists would be appointed/hired to control the quantity of money n circulation to control inflation. The only difference between the economists working in the public sector and those economists working in the Federal Reserve System would be that the former would be performing a public service for all the people instead of mainly the wealthy.
    Thank you for the discussion. I appreciate your willingness to engage in it.
    Jerry

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  4. Pingback: Conflict Watch: The Situation in Egypt is Spiraling Out of (Into?) Control | Normative Narratives

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