One hundred and one days after the Egyptian people forced Ex-President Mubarak from power, they are calling for a second ‘Day of Rage,’ alleging that the goals of the revolution are being thwarted, a little each day. They argue that the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) is prodding the country along with unmet promises and multiple counts of injustices. Many civilians have begun to ask if what they fought for initially, starting on January 25, 2011, will ever come to fruition.
With these concerns and thoughts bombarding my mind, one question haunts me. Can a country become a democracy, when the path leading to it is paved with actions that are fundamentally opposed to democracy? A building cannot be built if the foundation is not there or structurally unsound. I strongly believe that if Egypt is to develop into a democracy, then the leaders must be truly dedicated in their actions to helping that process along.
Twenty years ago in 1991, Vaclav Havel, in “Summer Meditations,” wrote to his people the very words I hope to hear one day from my future Egyptian President. Havel was elected President of Czechoslovakia after the fall of Communism and the success of their Velvet Revolution. He wrote of the “higher responsibility” that is placed on politicians and leaders. “Genuine politics,” he wrote, “is simply a matter of serving those around us: serving the community, and serving those who will come after us. Its deepest roots are moral, because it is a responsibility, expressed through action, to and for the whole…” (p. 6). When I hear these words from a man who at the time was leading his country through a transition to democracy, similar to that of Egypt’s now, I ask myself if the men that lead my country now are also grounded in the same principles and values that guided Havel.
In a previous post written on February 10, 2011, “What Is Democracy“, I wrote out some of the basic principles of a democracy. However, I believe that I must first define what I mean by a democracy. We all know the meaning of the word, the rule by the majority, but I am talking about much more than the direct meaning. I am talking about the many assumptions that I tack onto the word.
- I assume that a democracy first and foremost protects the rights of each individual, both majority and minority.
- I assume that a democracy protects the rights of each individual, including their right to free speech, free movement, free religion and free thought.
- I assume a democracy allows people to easily gather information to help them formulate educated opinions. Democracy means that the leaders are there to serve the people as Havel said so simply.
The way I see it, a democracy does not mean being arrested for insulting leaders or for protesting. Democracy does not mean a forced referendum to decide upon our constitution after the revolution demanded a presidential council instead. A democracy does not mean just voting. A democracy does not mean watching churches burn and people die. A democracy does not mean a group of old men sitting in a smoke-filled room making arbitrary decisions without seemingly taking into account the desires of the people. A democracy does not mean having these old men only speaking to us the people when they are trying to prove themselves the upholders of the ‘glorious revolution.’
Sometimes, I try to pretend that SCAF is doing their best, that they are managing fine, and that we all need to just hold out until the September elections. But then I remember Maikel Nabil, I remember Imbaba, I remember Ain Shams, and I remember Ramy Fakhry and I know that these are not all accidents. The ‘higher responsibility’ that Havel spoke of seems non-existent if we look at these actions and the many other injustices. SCAF, a ruling military council, is making the mistake of functioning in the old manner of dictatorship, where instead the people need them to speak and lay things out transparently. As a result, we are all left with vague explanations and disingenuous actions giving us more reason to doubt. Why then are the nay-sayers surprised when we say we will go back to the streets on May 27 for our second revolution? I clearly recall these same voices telling us that if SCAF did not fulfill the revolutions demands, then we could all go out again to Tahrir and the other respective locations. So we prepare and hope in a second upheaval to demand the same things that were demanded on February 11, 2011. We will not give up.
What better words to conclude with other than these words of Havel saying, “There is no reason to think that this struggle is a lost cause. The only lost cause is one we give up on before we enter the struggle” (p. 3). My struggle today is for freedom. It is for the freedom of the thousands of detained activists, and it is for freedom of speech and freedom of religion and freedom from fear. I will not and cannot accept any less than what I believe is just the beginning step to build up this nation to a democracy. As stated above, the more time we spend building our country without the necessary foundation, the farther away we will get from a genuine democracy. A journey begun even slightly off course leads to a destination far removed from the intended target. Hence it is these crucial months following the downfall of Mubarak’s regime that we need to focus on precise, deliberate actions rather than patched up solutions to complex issues.
Let us all dream big and live up to that ‘higher responsibility’ that rests on each of us. Let us all dream big and hold our leaders accountable to also live up to that responsibility.