Egypt's youth and the faux reformers

Nehad Abul Komsan
Sunday, February 13, 2011

The call of the young has resonated in Egyptian hearts. In less than three weeks, it has changed our political life and made us recover values that had been decimated by years of oppression. But as Egypt looks forward to crafting a democratic future, a few things should be understood about its revolution.

There are two groups in Egypt: the youths who insisted on an end to Hosni Mubarak's regime and the liberation of their nation, and those who seek to reap the fruits of a revolution that was not theirs. This group claims to speak for the younger generation, but its members represent only themselves. They fight for power without regard for democratic values. They repeat the regime's propaganda about the need to go slow, and they appeal to paternalistic and tribal emotions rather than supporting a civil state based on the rule of law.

While demonstrating in Tahrir Square recently, I met one judge - a member of the "Committee of the Wise" - who would fall into this second group. He had long opposed the appointment of female judges and told me, "Stop talking about women and all that nonsense."

This group is trying to hijack the efforts of the young revolutionaries by talking about maintaining stability. It supports "reform" as a matter of making minor changes to the constitution, a document that was altered in 1971 to grant then-President Anwar Sadat his nearly pharaoh-like powers. The 1971 constitution makes Egypt's president the head of the executive branch and the head of state and gives the person in that office the right to interfere in all other branches of government. It also bestows broad immunities that shield the exercise of these powers from accountability. Minor tinkering with this document should not be part of Egypt's democratic future.

With the fall of the Mubarak regime, there is no longer any reason for delay. The road is now clear for the Supreme Military Council to fulfill its promise of responding to the will of the people by ending the state of emergency; freeing all prisoners of opinion; and investigating those in the security forces who were responsible for setting criminals free from jails while keeping political prisoners in their cells along with newly arrested young revolutionaries. Other immediate measures include restoring basic rights, such as that of political parties to assemble and organize, and dissolving the People's Assembly and the Shura (Consultative) Council, which are the products of rigged elections.

Nor is there now need to hide behind issues of constitutional "legitimacy" and the specter of chaos. Indeed, when Mubarak's predecessors came to power in 1952, they abolished the 1923 constitution and formed a committee to craft a new constitution. It set aside the draft, however, when it was presented in 1954, claiming that the revolution provided all the legitimacy it needed. When it did this, the regime abandoned the promise of democracy, one of the most important symbols of the 1952 revolution. The constitutional provisions for freedoms, genuine elections, and political and economic rights had since been abandoned as well.

It is not surprising that the young revolutionaries rejected a continuation of the fruitless reform dialogue of the past three decades. They rejected the threat of chaos because they know that options already exist for democratic reforms. One of them is the draft constitution of 1954, which was drawn up by a committee of 50 Egyptian constitutional and legal experts. It would need discussion and amendments, but it is a credible basis for discussions.

Egypt did not have to choose between the threat of chaos or a corrupt regime that has enslaved its people for too long. Doing so would have sacrificed a revolution that has brought down a wall of fear whose fall is as important for Egypt and this region as the fall of the Berlin Wall was for Europe. Egypt did not have to succumb to blackmail when it knew that it possesses the legal abilities and expertise to avert chaos and a continuation of its authoritarian government.

The new generation of revolutionaries understood the game that was being played and was determined not to leave Tahrir Square until their demands were met. Their uprising is based on values and legitimacy that no one can hijack. They were not frightened by threats of instability and fundamentalism. These young men and women have confronted all inside and outside Egypt with a single choice: Support democracy or keep silent.

The writer, a lawyer, is president of the Egyptian Center for Women's Rights.

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