Defining Democracy In Egypt
GUY RAZ, host:
Now the loudest protest voices in Egypt are calling for democracy. Egypt officially regards itself as a democracy. But most Egyptians call that a sham. And the young people demanding true democracy have never lived in one. In fact, they've never known any other system of government besides the one led by Hosni Mubarak. There are, of course, no clear models in the Arab Middle East, so what might an Egyptian democracy look like?
It's a question I put to Samer Shehata who teaches Arab politics at Georgetown University.
Professor SAMER SHEHATA (Arab Politics, Georgetown University): I think the keyword is might and hopefully look like. And Egyptian democracy, I think, would look like a political spectrum that includes socialist ideas, that includes liberal ideas, certainly capitalist interests would be represented. Interests of business, labor, for the first time in a very long time, I think, would be represented. And there are millions of Egyptian workers who have been very active over the last three or four years.
And then, of course, there would be not one but a range of, I think, Islamist perspectives, including most notably the Muslim Brotherhood, not as a dominating force, but certainly there on the political scene. And there probably will be some elements, some of the cleaner elements that were previously associated with the old ruling party, where the regime in one capacity or another.
RAZ: Samer, when we hear about building a new democracy, rebuilding a democracy in Egypt, we're not necessarily talking about a liberal democracy like the one that, you know, we have here or in Western Europe or are we?
Prof. SHEHATA: Well, I think that's really the only kind of democracy that matters, right? Because a liberal democracy is a democracy that guarantees the rights of minority groups, and that's the kind of democracy that I would hope we develop in Egypt and elsewhere. And...
RAZ: Do you think that is the kind of democracy that people are really talking about?
Prof. SHEHATA: I think a great many people, the majority, actually, of people who talk about politics and who engage in politics are interested in that. Now, of course, there are some elements and some ideas which fall short of that, which privilege Muslim religious status over Christian religious status or that privilege men over women, or in some cases, you know, older people over youth.
And, of course, I don't think that has any place in any kind of a democracy, a liberal democracy and hopefully not in Egypt's future. It has to be based on equality and citizenship for all.
RAZ: Talk a little bit about what happens now. I mean, we know that the military is in charge. What happens next?
Prof. SHEHATA: Well, we don't know. But I think we know what people want, some of the basic things that people want and what should happen next if we're to move forward. One, there has to be the immediate rescinding of the emergency law, a kind of state of emergency or martial law that's been in effect that restricts political activities. There has to be constitutional amendments that guarantee free and fair elections and that allow people to be able to nominate themselves for the post of the president.
I think certainly elections have to take place, but elections under the previous constitution would really be deformed elections because of the amendments that really limit full participation. So elections, but not necessarily in 60 days, for example, as what the present constitution stipulates, what we've seen as an extra constitutional move on the part of the higher military counsel, right? It's not following the letter of the constitution.
So I think the constitution is in abeyance for now and we're gonna have to see what happens. I would hope an interim government, certainly. We don't want people in uniforms running the affairs of state for any length of time. And hopefully, that interim government would be composed of a wide variety of respected known individuals.
RAZ: Samer, obviously, a lot of the faces we've seen on television are young faces. These are young people who have known nothing except Hosni Mubarak. They have lived under no other leadership, no other system of government. They've lived primarily under an emergency law for most of their lives. I mean, how are they going to sort of know what to do, I guess?
Prof. SHEHATA: I think the people are very sophisticated. I mean, they certainly are exposed to the outside world. They're technologically savvy. They proved they can organize under oppressive conditions. And I think they know what they want. I mean, they want freedom. They want to be able to log into Facebook and send Twitter messages. And so, any kind of restrictions on that won't be allowed. They clearly want the right to peacefully protest. That's what they've been doing for the last couple of weeks, elections that actually matter that are free and fair.
But you're right, they're going to have to make it up as they go along. And this isn't over. They're going to have to negotiate with the military authorities that seem to be in charge and continue - and this isn't going to be easy - to make their demands peacefully that Egypt move towards democracy.
RAZ: That's Samer Shehata. He's a professor of Arab politics at Georgetown University.
Samer, thank you.
Prof. SHEHATA: You're welcome.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.