What Can Egyptians Learn From Tunisian Experience? – OpEd


The recent wave of violence in Egypt is new evidence that the Arab peoples want real changes, not cosmetic ones. The military leaders in Tunisia acted professionally and within the mandate of any professional military. They acted to protect the people, not a regime or a constitution that was written by an illegitimate regime. The Tunisian military stood on the side of the people and did not involve itself in politics. That institution now stands admired and respected by all Tunisians. The Tunisian people then elected a new body to lead the transition from authoritarian rule to a pluralistic representative one.

In contrast, during the Egyptian uprising, the Egyptian military stood in the middle. It did not shoot at demonstrators but it also treated Mubarak and his regime with deference. Consequently, the ouster of Mubarak did not delegitimize the institutions of the regime. Moreover, the military leaders acted in manner that preserved their privileged status. It was unwilling to transfer power to civilian authorities unless pressured to do so. The pattern of preserving privilege and power has been undeniable. So no one should be surprised today, when the people came back to the streets to demand the one thing they should have asked for the first time they rose up: the election of constituency assembly that will write a new constitution and establish an interim government.

But the post-Mubarak era is being founded on the institutions of an illegitimate regime. That is the fatal contradiction that is preventing Egypt from moving beyond its past. In a sense, the Egyptian revolution was aborted the minute the military assumed power. There is mounting evidence that the military leaders were not truly interested in keeping the peace while politicians tried to chart a new path to representative government. Instead, the military leaders created committees and commissions to amend the corrupt constitution and issue new ordinances and legal instruments that would limit the power and authority of future elected bodies and individuals.

The military leaders need to realize that credibility of their institution depends on their willingness to operate within the limits of the military proper mandate. Civilian rule, not military rule, is the only way forward. A military government cannot gain legitimacy merely by the consent of political parties, whatever their popularity.

In a reaction to the recent wave of protests, the leader of the High Military Council announced that the military could speed up the transfer of power to civilians if the people demand it in a referendum that the military states it is willing to facilitate. This very statement shows that the military leaders are disingenuous. If they have the time and resources to organize a referendum on staying in power, why not organize an election to elect a body that will govern and decide on the transition to representative governance instead? Moreover, if the military thinks that it is possible to hold one round of elections on November 28, why delay other rounds of elections to weeks later? The military leaders do not seem to understand that they lack legitimacy since they inherited power from a deposed ruler. Many Egyptians are now realizing this and they are not willing to allow the status quo to stand.

Ahmed E. Souaiaia

Prof. Souaiaia teaches at the University of Iowa with joint appointments in International Studies, Religious Studies, and the College of Law. He is the author of the book, Contesting Justice. Website: http://www.ahmedsouaiaia.com. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

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