What’s a democracy without checks and balances?

29-08-2013 06:50 PM

Magdy Malak


There can be no doubt that a large gap exists between how Egyptians see their 30 June Revolution and how the West, and many others in the world for that matter, see it. While Egyptians see it as a mass public endeavour to restore democracy, the West sees it as a deed against democratic values.

Rendering democracy impotent
For Egyptians, some 33 million of them took to the streets on 30 June, the date the Islamist president Muhammad Mursi had been sworn in a year earlier, to demand his ouster. The unprecedented mass protests led the army to give Mursi a 48-hour ultimatum to resolve the crisis, or face a Roadmap for Egypt’s future drawn by the various sectors of the Egyptian community, to be implemented by the military. Mursi rejected the ultimatum, was ousted on 3 July, the Roadmap was announced and went into effect the following day when—according to the Constitution—the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court was sworn in as interim president. A cabinet of technocrats was appointed, the Islamist constitution forced in by Mursi in 2012 is already being amended and should go on public referendum in two months time, and parliamentary and presidential elections will follow in intervals of three months later. 
So Egyptians see the 30 June Revolution as the will of the people coming into force to replace a president who had ridden democracy to authority, then used a series of presidential decrees and actions to render democracy impotent; all the while implementing an Islamist agenda that served non-Egyptian, Islamist loyalties.
The free world, for its part, sees that an elected president can only be removed through another election—even though it is a well-established principle that democracy is a concept much wider than the ballot box—otherwise democracy risks being aborted by anarchy.
Illegal presidential action
So it appears that Egypt and the West are each talking a different language; not only on the practical level of the language as such, but also in terms of different culture and understanding. 
It may do well to remember the 1974 Watergate scandal which was the result of the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington D.C, and the Nixon administration attempted cover-up of its involvement. Facing near-certain impeachment in the House of Representatives and a strong possibility of a conviction in the Senate for the illegal deed, Nixon resigned the presidency on 9 August 1974, the only resignation of a US president to date. 
Perhaps the most relevant action in this entire incident is that Congress, once investigations confirmed the illegality of the president’s actions, found it necessary to impeach him. If we apply the same reasoning to 2012 Egypt, who was to take President Mursi to account for illegal activity? Mursi had taken it upon himself to render ineffective all the legal techniques that could unleash the necessary checks and balances which ensure that an elected president does not get away with illegal action, let alone risk the entire country in the process.
Mursi accomplished this through his notorious Constitutional Declaration on 22 November 2012, in which he made his decisions immune to being contested before any legal body, including the Constitutional Court; fired the prosecutor-general and installed a hand-picked one; and immunised the [Islamist] Shura Council and Constitutional Assembly that was then writing a new constitution for Egypt against dissolution by court ruling. The legality of both these bodies was already being contested in court. 
Disabled checks and balances
Mursi’s Constitutional Declaration can be safely described as the most gross illegality committed by a president in the world. It was sufficient to impeach Mursi had Egypt then had a potent democracy or effective democratic tools. But Mursi had disabled the judiciary, and had ensured that the constitution and Parliament should remain Islamist without contest, thereby always on his side. 
So, in light of the disabled system of democratic checks and balances, and in view of a future outlook that was certain to maintain Egypt Islamist for decades if not centuries to come, and given that Mursi’s Islamist regime had already granted other Islamists in the world—including Hamas and other Jihadis— benefits that Egyptians absolutely refused to give away such as land in Sinai; what was Egypt to do? Who was able to take the president to account? And how? And who could even be sure there would ever be another election, let alone a fair one, when a quick glance at neighbouring Islamist Gaza revealed that no elections were held there since the Islamist Hamas came to power in 2006?
Only the public and military
It took the military support of the masses who turned out against Mursi on 30 June 2013 for that to happen. Yet in all fairness, it must be acknowledged that the army had made several attempts before to persuade Mursi to resolve the crisis. They asked the president to call for early presidential elections but, certain he could never win such an election, Mursi refused.  They asked him to bring in a new cabinet that would heed the people’s needs but, again, in his by-then usual intransigence and belligerence he refused. Egyptians realised that this president and his notorious Islamist regime which had displayed scandalous lack of loyalty to Egypt had to be removed, and that this could only be done by force of public will and the military.
This is not to say that some matters could not have done with improvements. Since we believe we have a just cause, the current authorities in Egypt need to tackle matters with more transparency and candour. We are missing accurate, official reports on the number and reasons of the deaths during the disbanding of the Islamist sit-ins—and this goes for the deaths among the Islamists and the security personnel. We lack an official report on the death of some 36 Islamists during an attack to free them as they were being moved to prison. Even given the certainty that the Islamists were armed and violent; if we demand that the West should respect our cause, we have to make it credible.
WATANI International
30 August 2013
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