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Failed revolutions: Mao’s China, Lenin’s Russia, Khomeini’s Iran. Is Egypt next?

What's the true test of a revolution's success? The new constitution. Unfortunately, Egypt’s military assigned a commission of experts, not elected representatives of the people, to draft a new constitution – threatening to derail reforms those in Tahrir Square fought so hard to win.

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Five ways Egypt's old Constitution stifled opposition

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Lastly, the Egyptian people are to be excluded from creating a new or revised constitution because the members of any constituent assembly must be drawn exclusively from the newly elected legislature.

If Egyptian military leaders exploit these and other ambiguities, they will leave the government and society slightly reformed but still unrepresentative and unresponsive. This is one of the two most likely outcomes.

Failed dreams destroy order

The other outcome is that a widening gap between the soaring hopes of Tahrir Square and the modest changes granted so grudgingly by the Egyptian military will inflame the great mass of the people. Captives of poverty, taunted by failed dreams – they could grow violent and destroy the established order.

Under these circumstances, it’s fair to predict that new leaders would emerge, those who offer terrible simplifications, who practice the cruelty of the just, acting now in the name of the people to punish the old rulers, but who ultimately prevent their supporters from regaining control of the state. Then the revolution begins to devour its own, and the violence can spread throughout the society.

This is the appalling trajectory of the failed revolutions of the past, of Robespierre’s France, Lenin’s Russia, Mao’s China, and Khomeini’s Iran – with all their death and loss and crushing of hope. It is not too late to turn away from such a violent ending or from partial and stalled reforms in Egypt.

A constitution by the people, not just for them

The best way to avoid both would be for Egypt’s rulers to order national elections for a constituent assembly to write a new constitution. If this approach were taken, Egypt would become a school of democratic self-government for the Egyptian people, for all Arab countries, and the entire world.

People-powered democratic revolts – do they last?

In supporting such endeavors, the military rulers of Egypt and their American supporters must not allow fears for stability to cripple their commitment to freedom derived from the decency and common sense of the people. Here is the true antidote to extremism and the old regime. The new Egyptian constitution will be of the people and for the people, as Egyptian constitutions have been written before, but this time, it must also be by the people.

P. Edward Haley is W.M. Keck Foundation Professor of International Strategic Studies and director of the Center for Human Rights Leadership at Claremont McKenna College.


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