Essential steps to a democratic Egypt

By Amr Hamzawy
Saturday, February 12, 2011;

Egypt has been fundamentally changed by the events since Jan. 25, which resulted in the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak on Friday. The challenge now is to translate the changes flowing from the popular uprising into the concrete procedures and safeguards necessary to underpin a genuine transition to democracy. We must take steps to protect against anarchy and lawlessness, from which too many people throughout Egypt have suffered in recent days. We must also begin to implement citizens' legitimate and just demands to bring an end to Egypt's authoritarianism.

Recent events have compelled Egyptian intellectuals, politicians, entrepreneurs, journalists and others to join together to find a way out of the impasse between protesters - who clearly had the support of large sections of the Egyptian people - and the Mubarak government, which was reluctant to accept calls for genuine political reform. The Committee of Wise Men, for which I serve as spokesman, was initiated by businessman Naguib Sawiris and Ahmed Kamal Aboul Magd, a professor of constitutional law at Cairo University who served as minister of information under President Anwar Sadat. Its members include Amr Moussa, the secretary general of the League of Arab States; Nabil Elaraby, former judge in the International Court of Justice and permanent representative of Egypt to the United Nations; and Nabil Fahmy, former president of Egypt's top administrative court and a past ambassador to the United States. We have aimed to be a mediating body between the two sides as well as present some kind of a road map for the transitional period.

We called on Mubarak to demand a set of constitutional amendments before delegating control of the transition process. This transition must include a lifting of the state of emergency; the dissolution of the illegitimate People's Assembly and Shura Council (the two chambers of Parliament that have come from rigged and flawed elections); the formation of an independent legal committee to amend the constitution; and the lifting of laws restricting political freedoms. These are the essential steps that will put Egypt on a safe path to democracy. They are also the steps by which the international community should judge our government's commitment to reform.

Only with clear and serious guarantees will the hundreds of thousands of people who have protested peacefully for a democratic government be convinced that this a serious proposition, one that underpins their security and safety and ensures that those responsible for the violence, human rights abuses and bloodshed in recent days are to be brought to account.

Otherwise, the long heritage of suspicion and distrust that so many in Egypt share about the regime's promises to allow real change will be entrenched, and it will make them fearful of what will come next if they no longer demonstrate.

Egyptians must do more than just protest. The absence of a youth movement with clear leadership and representation has been one obstacle to meaningful negotiation. There has been limited dialogue between state institutions and the youth groups as well as between the state and various political actors and committees. We believe we have responsibilities, starting with helping our young people see how to establish a democratic framework to represent their interests as a viable collective force and not as individuals. State institutions must in turn accept a collective dialogue with representatives of our youth.

We are convinced that the best way forward is to institutionalize the dialogue taking place today and convert it into a national conference or round- table negotiation between state institutions, youths, the political forces and independent national figures. This model would establish the powers and set the specific time frames to produce a democratic political system in Egypt. And only then will the people's revolution be safe.

The writer is research director at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut and spokesman for Egypt's Committee of Wise Men.

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