Egyptian Democracy and Citizens’ Readiness for It Essay

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer

Introduction

Over the last couple of years, Egypt has undergone numerous changes with regard to its governance structure. For a very long time, governance in the North African country was guided by the republican ideologies where the supreme power lies in the body of citizens entitled to vote for their leaders and representatives (Volkel 2015). Following the 2011 Arab Spring, the country managed to oust President Hosni Mubarak from power in a bid to make the country more democratic. However, the country has since been under military rule, a phenomenon that has led to wide criticism and numerous questions with regard to its journey towards becoming a democracy (Brown 2014).

The overthrow of Mohamed Morsi who took over the presidency from Mubarak by the current leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has attracted a lot of criticism from various parts of the world. The reason for this is that the current president has failed to build on the efforts made during the Egyptian revolution that was geared towards restoring democracy in the country (Tushnet 2015). Egypt went through a very rough time under the military rule, thus prompting the international community to pressure the current leaders to embrace the need to change the governance structure (Volkel 2015). Up to date, Egypt has not yet achieved the status of democracy. In addition, the current state of affairs is a clear indication that its citizens are not ready to embrace it without any assurances over their safety and general welfare.

Discussion

There are many schools of thought that have defined and explained the concept of democracy. One of the common definitions of democracy is a political orientation that favours a government where people elect their own representatives (Woolf 2005). This kind of a governance system promotes the right of citizens to vote and choose people they consider as the most qualified to push various national agendas. Democracy is also defined as the principle in which decisions are made by taking the side that attracts the highest number of supporters (Cambanis 2015). This definition explains the concept of majority rule.

The concept of democracy has four major elements, namely the rule of law, promotion of human rights, involvement of citizens in issues relating to their political and civil lives, as well as a political system controlled by the people through a process of free and fair elections (Woolf 2005). The process of stimulating democracy in Egypt under the leadership of President Sisi has been very slow, although governance experts believe that it can be promoted through example. Under his leadership, Egypt is slowly going back to the military rule that dented the country’s ability to attract foreign investors and aid organizations (Manhire 2012). This kind of governance system has a lot of negative effects on the economy, social welfare, security, and the education system, all of which are crucial for sustainable development. Currently, most Egyptians are in favour of a more secure country over the restoration of democracy. Without security, any efforts to promote democratic processes in the country will eventually be compromised to great lengths (Diamond 2011).

The rule of law

In 2011, Egypt conducted a referendum and voted in a constitution that set a maximum of two terms of four years each for the country’s president. At the time, the president was required to initiate the process of creating a new constitution before the 2012 elections. However, this did not happen and prompted the military to oust President Mohamed Morsi from power (“A dud return to democracy” 2015). At the time, President Sisi was the Chief General of the Army and ended up being elected to the country’s top leadership position. This happened following the suspension of the constitution. The leadership of President Sisi has been heavily criticized for his failure to stimulate democracy through violation of human rights, blocking the activities of the civil society, and limiting the freedom of the press (Cambanis 2015). This has led to a number of revolts by the Egyptians in a bid to pressure the president to adopt a more democratic system of governance (Brown 2014).

The parliament is the legislative arm of the government and holds a number of sessions every year to discuss, as well as pass various laws. However, the current Egyptian parliament is very weak because it has a lot of limitations with regard to its ability to control the powers given to the president (Tushnet 2015). The president still holds a lot of power, a phenomenon that has negatively influenced the numerous efforts being made towards promoting democracy in the country. For example, 27 members in the House of Representatives are appointees of the president. Many experts argue that the president can exploit this power to appoint people that will push his own agendas in the government (Tushnet 2015). Currently, Egypt does not qualify as a democracy owing to the reality that there is no constitution, the country is under military rule, as well as the fact that there is a grave violation of human rights (“A dud return to democracy” 2015).

Statistics released by the Human Rights Council in Egypt show that the number of political prisoners and people dying from clashes has been on the rise since President Sisi took over. The biggest challenge faced by young people in the country is constant accusation and harassment by the government for suspicion of being members of an outlawed group called Muslim brotherhood (Cambanis 2015). This has affected the ability of most citizens to participate in any activities because the government classifies them as acts of incitement. It is important to note that during the 2014 presidential election in which President Sisi won by a landslide, there was very minimal participation by opposition parties. This is a clear indication of the manner in which he has remained in control of crucial governance processes despite him resigning from his roles in the military (Cambanis 2015).

Human rights

Promotion and protection of human rights have been one of the major talking points in Egypt since President Sisi took over. One of the things that he promised to the Egyptians was turning around the fortunes of the country with regard to the style of governance. This has not been the case, because President Sisi has done the opposite by crushing the opposition and intimidating any activist groups. According to governance experts, Egypt is likely to be headed to another major crisis if the current president fails to make a number of crucial changes (Cambanis 2015). Some of the notable areas that he needs to address include the role of the government with regard to the protection of human rights, as well as ensuring that the constitution promotes equality among all citizens regardless of their gender. One of the things that currently disqualify Egypt as a democracy is the violation of human rights by the military (“A dud return to democracy” 2015).

Following the removal of Muhammad Morsi from power, many of his supporters have been killed with others being jailed. Some of their leaders are in exile, while others have been rigged out of politics by a corrupt and poorly managed electoral process (Cambanis 2015). Reports also indicate that most of them did not participate in the 2014 presidential elections, which contributed to a landslide win for the incumbent. The massive disrespect for various rights by the leadership of President Sisi has been necessitated by the lack of constitutional processes and the creation of a unicameral parliament (Tushnet 2015).

The questions of equality between men and women, as well as rights for disabled people, have led to many concerns over the democratic space in Egypt. Over the years, women have played a crucial role in the country’s development as much as their male counterparts have done (Diamond 2015). The constitution is very appreciative of the role that women play, thus the reason as to why there are at least 12% of parliamentary seats set aside for women leaders. Over the years, subsequent governments have put in a lot of efforts to promote gender equality in school, workplaces, religious centres, and other major areas of interaction (Dabashi 2012).

According to governance experts, one of the strategies that President Sisi can use to restore democracy in the country is through the promotion of gender equality (Cambanis 2015). However, the country is yet to take reasonable steps towards protecting women against vices such as female genital mutilation and segregation in the workplace. Reports indicate that despite the female genital mutilation being criminalized in 2008, there are still a large number of women that undergo the practice (Diamond 2015). The current leadership has not put across any measures to address this challenge. Women in Egypt are treated equally to their men as evidenced in the equal opportunities they get into employment, education, and access to health care services. Egypt has one of the lowest rates of maternal mortality in the world (Cambanis, 2015).

Egypt is very strict with regard to the issue of sexual harassment towards women. This was evidenced in 2014 when the president approved a law that was geared towards criminalizing this kind of behaviour. Egyptian societies also hold married women with high regard compared to those that are single or divorced (Sezgin 2013). The number of divorces taking place in the country has escalated over the last couple of years due to lack of enough democratic space for citizens.

The leadership of President Sisi has been accused of making Egyptians have little faith in their judicial system, thus affecting most of their crucial elements in life, such as family (Sezgin 2013). The president has also been accused of violating the rights of disabled people in the country. The international community has described him as a cruel and oppressive dictator who does not show any value for humanity at all. People living with disabilities in Egypt have suffered a lot from the lack of democratic space in the country, as their pleas and plights are never considered by the government anymore (Tadros 2012). This phenomenon has cast a very dark cloud on the possibility of Egypt, restoring back its democracy under the leadership of President Sisi.

Freedom of the press

For a very long time, the press has been an integral part of the struggle to promote democracy in Egypt. However, reports indicate that press freedom in the country has been on a decrease over the last couple of years (Sezgin 2013). The Egyptian media started having serious issues from the onset of the Arab Spring because of the manner in which it reported the events along with highly critical analyses. The election of President Sisi marked a new downward journey for the country’s press because his leadership style continues to undermine its importance. For example, in January 2015, the government adopted a new constitution that provided a number of assurances with regard to the freedom of the press (Cambanis 2015). However, the media cannot use the same assurances to their advantage because they are restricted by a number of laws.

One of the main tactics that the government has used to undermine the power of the media is intimidating journalists that report in a manner to sympathize with Muhammad Morsi and his supporters (Khalil 2014). The government understands that the press is a very powerful tool for change and directing criticism towards the government. Journalists have also been on the receiving end of violent attacks by the government while on duty covering various events. In particular, the government has focused a lot on journalists that cover any riots geared towards pressuring the government to embrace democracy (Rutherford 2013). There is an urgent need for the government to change some clauses in the constitution that limit the ability of the media to report on issues in an independent and authoritative manner.

One of the most important elements associated with press freedom that the Egyptian people have been denied a lot is access to information. According to experts, the power of information cannot be undermined, especially under the circumstances that characterize the leadership style of President Sisi (Dabashi 2012). Although the current constitution allows people the freedom to express their thoughts and opinions, the lack of democratic space in the country has made the clauses irrelevant. A free media environment is very important for the growth of a democratic nation because people will have reliable access to relevant information without any bias (Selim 2015). Under the current constitution, the media is expected to censor some of the images they pass to their audience, especially if they involve any form of political violence or war.

The laws that govern media activities in the country are very contradictory because they offer good assurances and at the same time, limit them with several regulations (Rutherford 2013). For example, article 71 of the current constitution protects journalists against facing time in jail for offences they make in the line of duty. On the other hand, the same article states that journalists can be jailed if their work is used as a tool for violence, denouncement, and intolerance against any person (Selim 2015). Such clauses are very ambiguous in the sense that they create room for political influence, which has played a major role in the country’s failed return to democracy. According to governance experts, it will be very hard for Egypt to embrace and promote democracy as long as the media is not appreciated as the main tool for enlightening the public about their rights (Tadros 2012).

Enlightening of citizens

Studies have established that an enlightened population plays a crucial role in the development of democracy in any country. One of the primary purposes of this element in a nation’s development agenda is ensuring that people understand the concept of democracy and its purpose (Brownlee 2012). Although there is a small percentage of the Egyptian population, which are illiterate, governance experts believe that democracy is a concept that people should not struggle to understand because it touches on various life aspects. One of the main things that the government should consider during this exercise is establishing whether its citizens support a democratic system of governance or are opposed to it (Khalil 2014).

Reports indicate that the sorry state in which most Egyptians are living in at the moment has led to changed priorities, as most of them feel that getting assurances over their safety should come first before restoring the democratic process. This will help in forming a basis for the process because crucial elements such as the electoral process ought to be covered extensively (Brownlee 2012). Egyptians deserve to understand the benefits that a democratic system of governance will bring into their lives, as well as the importance of giving it all the necessary support. It’s also important to remember that most Egyptians have very sad experiences from the events that have gulped the nation over the last couple of years, thus the need to initiate a healing and reconciliation process that will allow everyone to have a fresh start (Cambanis 2015).

This process should also involve informing the citizens of their rights, how they can fight for them, and the necessary measures to take in case anyone violates them in any particular way (Howard 2013). Research has established that gross violations of human rights happen a lot under dictatorial regimes because the leaders often disregard the constitution. This means that the Egyptians also need to learn about the various clauses in the constitution and the way they can be used to advocate for a more democratic system of government (Khalil 2014). Due to the extensive nature of the damage caused by the revolutionary activities in the country, it is also important for the citizens to learn about the dangers of embracing religious extremism and ways of fighting it (Rutherford 2013).

Economic and security experts argue that any form of extremism in a country can move its development agenda from a stable state into an irreversible disaster (Howard 2013). This could be the road Egypt is headed to in the next couple of years if the current crop of leaders is not changed or pressured to adopt a better strategy for running the country’s affairs. In a democratic system of governance, the thought and decision-making processes should be free, fair, and inclusive (Mahmud 2013). In addition, the citizens should be accorded the full rights to choose their own representatives depending on the way they believe in their ability to deliver the desired results.

Conclusion

The 2011 Arab Spring raised a lot of hopes among the Egyptians with regard to their long-awaited moment in which their beloved nation would fulfil its potential of becoming a democracy. Four years later, this dream is truly far from being realized because, under the leadership of President Sisi, the country seems to be heading back to its dark days of tyrant military leadership. The political class in the country has been thrown into the back seat as far as the running of the country’s affairs is concerned, thus making it hard for the country to regain its stability. With this kind of environment, it is almost impossible for the country to hold a free and fair election in which all citizens have an equal opportunity to express their opinions through the ballot.

Currently, the country does not have a constitution, and its legislative body is no longer operating as it ought to be doing. According to governance experts, as long as these two important elements continue to lack in the tenure of President Sisi, Egypt is heading towards the worst. The main reason for this is the fact that there is no one to make checks and balances with regard to the way the president delivers on his political as well as administrative roles. In addition, with the increasing limitations on the freedom of the press, the public will not be able to learn their role in promoting democracy and at the same time learning the mistakes they have done in the past. Currently, Egypt does not qualify as a democracy, and the current state of affairs is a clear indication that its citizens are not ready to embrace it without any assurances over their safety and general welfare.

References

A dud return to democracy: President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi is taking Egypt down a familiar dead end 2015. Web

Brown, N 2014, Grading Egypt’s roadmap toward democracy: Is president-in-waiting Abdel Fattah al-Sisi living up to his word? Web.

Brownlee, J 2012, Democracy prevention: The politics of the U.S.-Egyptian alliance, Cambridge University Press, Massachusetts.

Cambanis, T 2015, Once upon a revolution: An Egyptian story, Simon and Schuster, New Jersey.

Dabashi, H 2012, The Arab Spring: The end of post colonialism, Zed Books, California.

Diamond, L 2011, Developing democracy: Toward consolidation, JHU Press, New Jersey.

Diamond, L 2015, In Search of Democracy, Routledge, New York.

Howard, P 2013, Democracy’s fourth wave? : Digital media and the Arab Spring, OUP USA, New York.

Khalil, A 2014, Liberation square: Inside the Egyptian revolution and the rebirth of a nation, St. Martin’s Press, California.

Mahmud, M 2013, Egypt Spring: A rocky road to democracy, Publish America, New York.

Manhire, T 2012, The Arab Spring: Rebellion, revolution, and a new world order, Guardian Books, London.

Rutherford, B 2013, Egypt after Mubarak: Liberalism, Islam, and democracy in the Arab world, Princeton University Press, California.

Selim, G 2015, The international dimensions of democratization in Egypt: The limits of externally-induced change, Springer, California.

Sezgin, Y 2013, Human rights under state-enforced religious family laws in Israel, Egypt and India, Cambridge University Press, Massachusetts.

Tadros, M 2012, The Muslim brotherhood in the contemporary Egypt: Democracy defined or confined? Routledge, New York.

Tushnet, M 2015, The Arab Spring: An essay on revolution and constitutionalism, Edward Elgar Publishing, New York.

Volkel, J 2015, If Democracy in Egypt cannot be stimulated directly, It can be promoted by example. Web.

Woolf, A 2005, Democracy, Evans Brothers, New York.

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