Sunday, April 03, 2011

Egypt and Democracy: Observations on the Egyptian Paradox - Political Rights v. Individual Rights, the Meaning of Freedom and Martyrs of the Revolution

As events in Egypt continue to unfold, there are interesting paradoxes emerge between what the people say they want and what they are actually working, or not, to achieve.

For instance, reading about El Baradei doing his best to begin campaigning for president.  He spoke at a charitable fund raising event on Friday.  What did the media report that he said?  

...vowing to continue his struggle until all the goals of the revolution have been achieved. At the ceremony on Friday, organized by the  Egyptian charity Resala, ElBaradei said he had hoped that change could take place without the loss of lives. He said that these lives will not be wasted, and Egyptians must realize the objectives of the revolution to pay them tribute.
The former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency has called for clear steps to achieve a peaceful democratic transition, to revamp Egyptian media and to remove corrupt officials involved in the killing of protesters.

A necessary triangulation, the "goals of the revolution" since it is the Revolutionary Youth that makes up the majority of El Baradei's followers.  What are the Revolution's demands and goals?  Here is a report listing twenty six demands in the form of questions.   

Were these the main objectives of the Revolution?  In some ways, they are understandable as subject to the specific time and experiences of Egypt.  Probably necessary if Egypt wants to get to a place where the government is of, for and by the people.  

On the other hand, the one thing that I do not hear or read very much about is what this "peaceful democracy" means.  There is really no discussion about individual rights, the basis of any really "free" democracy as opposed to a "peaceful" democracy.  The Mubarek Regime retained a facade of "democracy", but it was extremely lopsided and had little respect for individual rights.  Even Iran says it has a democracy, but anyone with even a rare experience of reading about it understands there is no protection of individual rights.  That means no real freedom.

Without a true understanding of these rights and how they apply in a free democracy, government becomes "mob democracy" or the "democracy of the majority".  Just because a majority agrees on an action, any action including discrimination against minorities or enforcing a religion, does not make it right or a "free" nation.  Mob rule based on it's own confluence of reasoning can become as destructive and oppressive as the rule of a dictator even when it starts out as a benign force.

One of my favorite lines comes from the movie "The Patriot" and sums up this issue nicely.  The fictional character, debating the colony of Virginia's declaration for independence and joining the American Revolution, asks: "Why should I change the government of one tyrant three thousand miles away for the government of three thousand tyrants one mile away?"  

In other words, what is more dangerous?  One man, all be it with the power of state, over "there" and largely concerned with his own issues, making an appearance here and there through government branches, subject officials and a small, but efficient security apparatus attempting to enforce his rules from a distance, is less dangerous than three thousand "neighbors"  who live right down the road, able to visit and enforce their oppressive laws twenty four hours a day, seven days a week with an inescapable force of the majority.  

I do not see these discussions about how or what kind of government should be formed beyond "peaceful democracy" nor any insistence on or discussion of what constitutes a free people.  There are no discussions of individual rights.  No discussion about how to protect the rights of the people from the power of a majority rule.  Protection that is necessary in a democracy.

There is a demand for investigations into torture and abuse with the prosecution of the guilty, but no one adds to that the declaration that a free man has the right to be secure in his person and papers.  He cannot be forced to give evidence against himself.  The state cannot inflict cruel and inhuman punishment.  There can be no taint of blood (ie, family and friends cannot be arrested, persecuted or dispossessed simply for having a relationship with the accused or to coerce a confession).

There is a demand for all remaining political prisoners to be freed, but no where is the declaration that a man has the right to legal representation.  He has the right to a speedy trial and cannot simply be held for years without reason or trial.  He has a right to face his accusers and bring witnesses on his behalf. He has the right to free speech which means that he has the right to speak his opinion, to criticize the government without fear of persecution or prosecution.  

The list of demands go on and on, but so to could the declarations of individual rights that support these demands.  It is as if the revolutionaries expect that once these demands are met, their individual rights will simply fall into their hands and that no one would dare to infringe on these here to for invisible rights in the near future as it would be "counter-revolutionary".  As if every person who reads their demands and agrees with the demands in body, completely understands the spirit.  The basis of which is freedom and individual rights.  

Neither is there any mention of these rights in context to the soon to be written constitution or soon to be seated parliament.  In fact, what is spoken of more often in relationship to these upcoming events and the recently passed referendum are citizens achieving their "political rights".  Voting in an election, allegedly fair and representative, has superseded individual rights.  The freedom to run for political office is more important than the freedom to simply live, think and pursue happiness unmolested from government.  

No one is articulating the idea that political rights are what are given and taken away by whatever government system or governing group is in power.  As was the case under Mubarek where people could try to run for office, but only if given approval by Mubarek's government.  Where people could try to vote, but only if they were allowed into the polling station, had the right political persuasion or, if not, have their votes discounted or changed in favor of the tyrant and his government.  A government that routinely abused the people's individual, natural and unalienable rights.  Where people simply gave up trying to assert their "political right" to vote or have a say in their government, choosing instead to "suffer while such evils are sufferable".

Whereas individual rights, natural and unalienable rights, belong to mankind regardless of what system of government or what people are in power.  That government of the people must be designed to protect these rights to insure that there is no future where an oppressor can rise nor use the law and lack of recognized, protected rights against the people.  No oppressor, neither an individual nor a group of people claiming to represent the consensus of the majority or even a powerful minority.

This lack of a cohesive and universal message being sounded over and over again throughout the revolution and after is what is allowing the "revolutionaries" and their ideas to be painted by such organized forces as the Muslim Brotherhood and, worse, the Salafis as dangerous. "Liberals" without religion or faith, bent on the disparagement and destruction of Islam.  A cohesive and universal message that appeals to a great majority of Egyptian citizens who have just spent their lives living in fear of being "too Muslim" in case it drew the scrutiny, reaction and oppression of the last regime.  Who also believe that the entire world is set against them.

To these accusations, if they are responded to at all, the Liberals seem to stamp their feet and yell, "No, we're not!  We want to give everyone freedom."  An ethereal idea that has many connotations.  The Islamists continue to say, "Freedom to do what?  Become not a Muslim?  We know because..." pick a reason.  Whatever the non-aligned Muslims and liberals do, it is always an indication that this small, but thriving minority is dangerous to the existence of the Muslim majority.  

So, the revolutionaries and the liberals within it continue to be pulled down into the Islamists' message, instead of coordinating a cohesive, universal message that bridges the gap, talks over the noise and speaks directly to the fears of the people.  The fear that some other group will come to power and repress them again under the guise of "liberation".

Somewhere, between the Revolutionaries in the Square and the Islamists on the political soap box, is a huge "silent majority", who are largely non-aligned Muslim Egyptians, who did not even come to vote on the referendum (some where between 14 and 18 million registered voters), but instead, are waiting to see how this whole thing plays out.  What do the Revolutionaries really want?  What new form of government will endeavor to organize their lives while they endeavor to avoid it?  Will there even be a government or will it simply blur into chaos and sectarianism?  Are the Islamists correct that this new government will be just as intrusive as the last, seeking to take away one of the few things they have been able to call their own these past decades: their faith?

In the end, these are the people that must be convinced.  Those who are not Islamist in nature nor even particularly liberal, but are waiting to hear the answers.  The people who must know the difference between political rights and natural, individual and unalienable rights that enable them to do exactly as they wish: to live unmolested and largely free of government interference in their lives.  These are the people that must receive the message.  

These people do not give a damn about the demands of the revolution.  While they may nod their heads at the notion of Mubarek and cohorts being prosecuted for their past actions, Mubarek could fly to the moon so long as they could get on with living.  It is these who the blessings of freedom and the protection of their individual, natural and unalienable rights most represent.  To simply live and to be without someone else coming along to tell them how they should do it.  A future that is at risk if the Islamists win the war of ideas in the newly free market place of ideas.

The realization of that paradox has stymied the revolution and stagnated it into a list of demands.  Demands the revolutionaries constantly marching in the square shout out amongst other calls as they interfere with the attempt of these ordinary Egyptians to simply live.  That is not to say that they do not have the right or should not be there, but that they are "losing the crowd", as they say in politics, because their "demands" do not resonate with every day life.  The revolutionaries are too proud of their revolution to actually explain what it means beyond these "demands" and the never ending protests.  Or, how realizing these demands translate into the protection of the ordinary Egyptian's right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".  

El Baradei, speaking at the ceremony to honor 42 of the hundreds who lost their lives in the Jan25 revolution said, 

these lives will not be wasted, and Egyptians must realize the objectives of the revolution to pay them tribute.

Then went on to list a few of these objectives including a peaceful democracy, a free media and prosecution of "corrupt officials" responsible for killing the protesters.  As if they will ever be able to discover who of the hundreds of men in these positions gave the order, or even had to considering the condition of the security services and their inherent adherence to what can be only cynically referred to as 'casual and routine violence' against the people.  Actions that cannot be changed until the idea of individual, natural and unalienable rights permeates throughout society.

That is one of the great paradoxes.  Here is the man, El Baradei, who drew these forces around him and gave them a center around which to organize after the death of a young man who was exercising his individual rights.  El Baradei who wishes to represent the "youth" and the revolution as the first president of this new era.  A man who does not really know why these young people went into Liberation Square, withstanding the cold, the hunger, the thirst, the tear gas and the fear, some giving their blood and others their very lives.

Or, at least, he cannot articulate it.

They did not stand and die so that Mubarek could be arrested and put on trial.  They did not stand and die so that the hated State Security could be dismantled.  They did not stand and die for some washed out version of a "peaceful democracy" where new laws could be written that pervert and destroy the very reason they went out into Liberation Square, depending on which staid old man with his own agenda can pander to the public and get elected.

These things, in the end, are meaningless and without value when compared to the noble and priceless gift that they paid for with their suffering, their blood and their very lives.  The achievement of these "objectives" will mean nothing unless the gift of their sacrifice is realized.  A gift that is in danger of being lost amongst all the noise of demands, rowdy protesters and triangulating politicians. 

That gift is Freedom.  Freedom that is not protected by "democracy" or "political rights", but is obtained through the promotion, understanding and protection of individual, natural and unalienable rights.  It is these rights that guarantee a free people, the political rights of participation and a responsive democratic government.  A government for the people, of the people and by the people that provides the opportunities, space and security for the people to achieve their hopes and dreams.  None of these can exist without freedom and freedom cannot exist without the protection of individual rights. 

On January 25, 2011, when the protesters marched into Liberation Square, there was only one thing worth dying for: freedom.

Speak it.  Live it.  Be it.

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