We Egyptians are still marching forward toward democracy
Contrary to the global perception that Egypt is sinking into chaos, presidential election debates reflect hope for a new Egypt. Open debate between secular and Islamist groups was unthinkable over the past 60 years. This openness means the Egyptian body politic is maturing.
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Growing up in Egypt, I witnessed the harmony between the peoples of the two of faiths; together we celebrated Eid, Easter, and Christmas, and together we lived in the same building and went to the same school. The late Pope Shinoda III used to say: “We do not live in Musr, but Musr [Egypt] lives within us.” The current grand imam and sheikh of Al-Azhar, Ahmad Al-Tayyeb, has signed a new constitutional paper demanding unity and human rights for all Egyptians.Skip to next paragraph
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In the post-revolution period, some bad actors, including those from the previous regime, seek to fan inter-religious violence in order to destabilize our infant democracy. The fact that it hasn’t taken a deep hold is yet another sign of hope.
Naturally, the role of religion in politics is now being debated, and in fact the recent debate is telling of this change. Mr. Aboul-fotoh was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood group that was established in 1928 and had experienced political persecution ever since. He represents the “Al-Tayaar Al-Islami,” or “The Islamic Party,” in the broadest sense of the words.
Mr. Moussa, on the other hand, who was a foreign minister and secretary general of the Arab League during the Mubarak era, represents the “Al-Tayaar Al-Librali,” or the “The Liberal Party.”
The open debate between the secular and religious orientations of politics was unthinkable over the past 60 years. This new openness means the Egyptian body politic is maturing. Citizens are taking responsibility for their own fate by insisting that diverse visions and ideologies compete. In the end, Egyptians know that, for the first time, they can choose their future. It won’t be dictated or imposed by anyone.
From my involvement in Egypt, I am confident that the SCAF will hand over power to the elected president. However, I believe that the SCAF wishes to have a “respectable exit” and some guarantees regarding the status of the Army in the constitution of the new Egypt.
My message to the Egyptian people, and especially to the politicians, is simple: For the sake of Egypt, unite together to complete the passage from fallen dictatorship to emergent democracy by focusing on charting the new constitution. No matter who comes to power, the constitution will protect citizens against abuse of authority either by the legislative or executive branch. Luckily, Egypt still has a respected and robust judiciary system to complete the triad of democracy.
My concern is that the practice in Mubarak’s era of “Hizb Aada Al-Nagah,” or the “Success-Enemy Party,” would continue through “conflicts of trivialities,” drifting the nation away from the central issues of the constitution and economic productivity. The more effective this unproductive course, the longer the transition time to democracy.
It is imperative that we do not give up hope. The world must support a democracy that has passed the stage of conception and is now in the gestation period, ready for a new birth.
Ahmed Zewail is the 1999 Nobel Prize winner in chemistry; he is playing an active role in Egypt’s transformation to democracy.