By Rami G. Khouri, editor-at-large of The Daily Star and director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut (THE NEW YORK TIMES, 07/06/11):
Egyptians refer to their “revolution” that overthrew the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak last February, and they revel in its continuing afterglow, appreciating how significant and satisfying was their deed.
The post-revolution phase now underway is a more difficult challenge than the weeks of street demonstrations that ousted Mubarak. Everyone in Egypt asks every day: Did the revolution really change much beyond removing the top officials from office, and will a new democratic system of governance fully take root in the country?
In Cairo this week, I had a vantage point from which to understand the deeper political issues at play here when I participated in a two-day seminar of 30 representatives of nongovernmental organizations from a dozen Arab countries, who gathered to discuss “Paths towards democratic changes and equitable development in the Arab region: Towards building a civil state and establishing a new social contract.”
The meeting — convened by the Arab NGO Network for Development, the Arab Institute for Human Rights and the Egyptian Association for the Community Participation Enhancement — clarified what I see as the three most important political dynamics to emerge from the Egyptian experience (which is also taking place in Tunisia):
- The Tahrir Square experience was an exhilarating mass empowerment of once helpless individuals who came together and were able to remove a disliked government;
- The concept of “the consent of the governed” is now operational in Egypt, as “people power” has become the legitimate source of authority and governance;
- The spirit of Tahrir Square must now be translated into a new governance structure and social contract that provide citizens with political and civil rights and also the promise of more egalitarian socioeconomic prospects.
The gathered NGO activists knew instinctively from decades of experience that they had to achieve one overriding imperative if the newly forged assets of the popular rebellions across the Arab world were to be translated into long-term gains: The new governance systems must be based on rights that are both constitutionally defined and implemented and enforced through credible legal and political structures.
Among the critical elements in a new social contract are a strong, independent judiciary and a new relationship between the military-security sector and the civilian population.
The political contest underway in Egypt today sees the spirit of Tahrir Square continuing to manifest itself in several forms — street demonstrations, legal action, new political parties, civil society activism, dynamic media — that seek to define a new governance system in the face of the two most powerful forces that hover over society: the military and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Many Egyptians see a growing alliance between the military and the Islamists, which some even refer to as a quiet coup d’état. But the new element at play now is the Arab citizen. Masses of Arabs today feel that they actually have the ability not just to demand, but also to enforce, their rights as citizens in the democracies they seek to construct from the wreckage of the Arab security states they endured for many decades.
The polarization, fragmentation or even violent collapse of some Arab states — Somalia, Yemen, Lebanon, Bahrain, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Algeria and Iraq to date, with others lined up to follow suit — is the natural consequence of states that fail to provide their citizens with the rights they expect.
Rehabilitating and rebuilding more stable Arab states and governance systems today requires addressing the equal rights of all citizens in the political, civic, economic, cultural and social fields, and “constitutionalizing the protection of citizen rights,” as one Moroccan scholar called it.
The historic change that Tunisia and Egypt have triggered is simply that Arab citizens are now players in this process, having been mostly idle bystanders in the past four generations when Arab statehood proliferated without any real citizen sovereignty taking root in parallel.
This struggle to define the new Arab world will go on for some years. The important thing is that it has finally started in earnest, and its outcome will be determined largely by the interaction among indigenous actors that now include the once vanished but now reinvigorated protagonist in the saga of statehood: the Arab citizen.
Fuente: Bitácora Almendrón. Tribuna Libre © Miguel Moliné Escalona