The Inevitability of Egypt’s 2nd Revolution

On July 3rd 2013, the world watched history repeat itself as the Egyptian military rose up yet again and deposed Egypt’s sitting President. This second revolution was the result of months of growing animosity, and with the seed of the first revolution still present, this second revolution was, in fact, inevitable.

In January 2011, the Egyptian military sided with the people and ousted President Mubarak in show of determination to transform Egypt into a democracy.  This revolution was the result of years of growing animosity with the Egyptian government and the deterioration of conditions in Egypt. It sought to change the system, overthrowing the two systems of oppression: the state—by way of a highly centralized government, its suppression of Egyptians, and its silencing of its opponents, foresting a system of patrimony, corruption, and impunity; and religious extremism—the disjuncture in Islamic values created by the rise of Wahhabism, with Islamic teachers only teaching the formalities and rituals of Islam and not the concepts of freedom, justice, and equality which are at the heart of Islam.

When President Mohammed Morsi came to power on June 30th 2012, he was faced with an incredibly difficult task: balance the differences between the religious extremists and the liberal revolutionaries and slowing move the country away from dictatorship and towards democracy. To fast a movement and he faced opposition from the right; to slow a movement and he face outcry from the left. The entire process was like that of balancing on the edge of a knife. The revolution has created space. It had brought change from the time being, but what was done with that moment, how it was used, is the most critical component of creating lasting change. And it is in this way that Morsi truly failed.

Egypt’s pre-revolution society—the lack of political rights, police brutality, the implementation of emergency of laws, the rise of Wahhabism, the deterioration of the medical system, increased poverty, increased violation of human rights and violence against women, governmental hypocrisy, and the isolation of the President from the people—provided the spark fro revolution. In the 2 ½ years since the first revolution, and the year of President Mori’s rule, no significant ground has been covered. In fact, the economic situation in Egypt has worsened. The discontent of the masses has been evident for the past year, yet the government made little progress in address these grievances. Once again, the situation came to a boil and the world saw history repeat itself as Egypt underwent a second revolution.

This second revolution was inevitable. The first revolution caused a break in the system; a pause in which space was created for changes to be made. However, Morsi was not able to take advantage of this space. He was not able to bridge the gap between the two polarized groups, find a middle ground, and slowly initiate change. And are we surprised? Morsi was not the great Mandela type; the great unifying figure around which the country could assemble, with the capacity to mobilize Egyptians to create a better and brighter Egypt. From the beginning of his Presidency, Morsi was constantly hit from both the left and the right and it crippled him. He did not have the strength to stand up and unify them, and this, consequently, resulted in the creation of such discontent that revolution struck again.

Although Morsi was not the leader that Egypt needed him to be, this second revolution sets a dangerous precedent, one in which societal discontent becomes equivalent to the need for revolution. This leaves not room for the development of democratic processes and peaceful mechanisms of regime change; it only leaves room for violence. Egypt, right now, is at a critical point in its history. What happens next will determine Egypt’s future. Will Egypt now be able to seize the moment, use the space, start a dialogue between its polarized factions, and initiate real change? Or will it forever be plagued by cycle of violence?

 

Jolene Hansell is a Master’s Candidate of Conflict Resolution at Georgetown University. Her specific area of focus is transitional justice and rule of law. Currently she is in Arusha, Tanzania, working as a Legal Intern for the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. You can email her at jah340@georgetown.edu or follow her on twitter @joleneh340

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Can We Create A Utopia?

Recently, I pulled a childhood book off my shelf – The Giver by Lois Lowry. The book is one of my favorites, and since I hadn’t read it since the seventh grade, I decide to re-read it. In the context of my studies now, the book took on a whole different meaning for me which had me asking: What does post-conflict reconstruction look like? Should democracy always be the goal? Or put more simply, is there such a thing as a utopic  society?

The aftermath of war, be it civil or international, is almost as bad as the fighting itself. Yes, the violence may have stopped – the result of a victorious party, a peace agreement, or an international intervention – but the battle has not yet been won. The conflict is frozen, balancing on the edge of a knife; a sudden movement in either direction could cause the process to unravel. It is at the moment, when a country is most vulnerable, that post-conflict reconstruction begins. The goal is to rebuild the country from the ground up, putting in place the necessary infrastructure and institutions, with all the checks and balances to hopefully ensure that such violent conflict does not reoccur. The traditional formula has been the institutionalization of democracy, but is this the most viable option? Can this create an enduring peace in and of itself?

There are two characteristics of democracy that are pertinent to this discussion: competition and choice. Democracy is competitive by its very nature. An election is a competition between competing parties for control of the government. Sounds simple, civil; people go to the ballots, cast their vote, one party wins, and there you have it, a new government. And in a developed democratic system this might be the case, but in a newly formed, or rather forming, democracy, the situation is quite different.

Imagine this: the multiple competing factions in a civil war have managed to come to a peace agreement, by way of an international intervention, have agreed to participate in national elections to determine the next legitimate government. In preparation for these elections, the former conflict factions each form their own political party. As, resources are scare and corruption is high, the only way to ensure one’s interests is to control the access and distribution of both resources and power. Thus, the elections have become a power struggle between the former competing factions. In support of this claim, Soth Plai Ngram, an expert on peacebuilding in Cambodia wrote in his M.A. Dissertation, “democracy is a competing terrain for political parties to win their power by controlling military forces, money and resources, rather than by winning the hearts of the people by improving their lives” (p.53). Consequently, rather than foster peace, democracy could actually create another means by which these parties continue to fight, pushing the fragile peace off the edge of the knife and sending it back into the chaos of violence.

Democracy is also characterized by choice; the capacity of each individual to have a voice in the process, to make their choice, and to cast their vote. But choices also create differences. They distinguish us from one another. The creation of differences between people, can be the source of future violence is a fragile state if these differences are not addressed or if there are not mechanisms in place for the reconciliation of such difference without resorting to violence. The construction of an identity based on differences is one of the foremost sources of conflict. Take, for example, the Rwanda genocide (rooted in construction of Hutu/Tutsi identities), the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (rooted in different religious identities), or the conflict between the two Sudans (rooted in a conflict between Arab/African identities). Democracy helps to facilitate the capacity of choice, but could it be possible for this capability to actually be detrimental to post-conflict reconstruction? How do we reconcile this? If not by democracy, then what?

There is a quote from The Giver that fits perfectly here, and attempts to define an alternative to democracy:

“We don’t let people make choice of their own…We really have to protect people from wrong choices…It’s safer” – Jonas to the Giver (Lowry p. 99)

The community in the giver is supposed to amply a utopic society; however, it is anything but a democracy and is rather more akin to a dictatorship. There is no suffering or pain, no bloodshed or tear, but there also is not choice or freedom. The society has a prescribed set of rules to which its citizen must adhere and the citizens are constantly monitored by camera to ensure compliance. The society has a predetermined number of births and deaths (referred to as ‘releases’) per year and each family unit has two children (one male and one female). A Committee of Elders matches husbands and wives, children to their parents, and jobs to the children at the age of 12 based on their individual characteristics and personal attributes. There are not differences. There is no colour, only shades of grey, emotions are suppressed with medicine, and there is an emphasis on uniformity and conformity. This system is functional and it seems to works, at least in the short term. The problem here is that it is like a teeter-totter; it can be a stepping-stone to something greater or a system needing just the right straw to entirely collapse.

So where does this leave us in terms of post-conflict reconstruction. What I have just described represents the two chasms between which peace balances: democracy, by nature of choice and competition, resulting in reoccurring conflict at one extreme, and dictatorship resulting in conflict when its authority is shaken or threatened at the other extreme. And in between we have a peace, fragile and fleeting, but nevertheless struggling to exist. The goal of post-conflict reconstruction should be neither democracy nor dictatorship, but rather the expansion of the space in which peace can be created; a widening of the tightrope to a more manageable size. It should begin with dialogue among the parties involved, but should not move too quickly towards any particular goal. A strong foundation needs to be built otherwise the system will collapse once more. If democracy is the answer, then the progress towards it needs to be slow. It needs to be built up brick by brick, not thrown together with fingers crossed hoping that it works. A democracy in a post-conflict situation needs to be continuous supported – one election does not create a democracy. It is a process. It may come with initial elements of dictatorship – highly centralized power, lacking in rights and freedoms – but these elements do not spring up overnight. Yes, the ultimate goal should be an open, democratic society, but this takes time.

So, can we create a utopia? Is a post-conflict situation the opportunity to sculpt a utopia society? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive towards it. If we are taking utopia to be synonymous with peace, reconciliation, the absence of violence, human rights, sustainable development, and the dignity of human beings, then it is a goal that we must continue to work towards. However, it is a project that never ends. There is no perfect system, no perfect democracy, no perfect society; it can constantly be improved. Although utopia will never be reached, striving towards it is what helps to create a lasting peace, one step at a time.

Jolene Hansell is a Master’s Candidate of Conflict Resolution at Georgetown University. Her specific area of focus is transitional justice and rule of law. Currently she is in Arusha, Tanzania, working as a Legal Intern for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. You can email her at jah340@georgetown.edu or follow her on twitter @joleneh340

Can Kenya’s Judiciary Bear the Burden of National Elections?

The Honorable Willy Mutunga

The Honorable Willy Mutunga (Photo credit: Ford-Foundation)

With Presidential elections looming on March 4th, 2013, Kenya is in the spotlight of the international community. After the eruption of violence following the December 2007 elections, immense international pressure is being placed on Kenya to carry out free and fair elections this time around. The 2007 elections resulted in over 1,100 deaths and 600,000 Internally Displace Persons. Moreover, a peace agreement was only reached as a result of the mediation efforts led by Kofi Annan between Kabaki (sitting President and alleged victor of the election) and Odinga (opposition candidate alleging falsified elections results) through the disillusion of the constitution and the creation of a coalition government in which Kabaki became the President and Odinga became the Prime Minister.

In the four years since the last presidential elections, Kenya has worked to create the preconditions for democratic elections this time around. The constitution has been rewritten, alternative dispute resolution mechanisms have been indoctrinated into political processes, the judiciary was recreated, and the public was educated on the topics of democracy and the independence of the judiciary. But is this enough?

This past September, I had the pleasure of hearing Kenyan Chief Justice Willy Mutunga speak in Washington, D.C. He spoke of the restructuring of the Kenyan judiciary and the ways in which this new system will counter impunity and be able to act as the impartial voice on issues of contention. The changes that have been made thus far are noteworthy – judges have been vetted and retrained, the judiciary has been granted full independence from the other branches of government, and set of specific mechanisms has been developed for dealing with the ‘hot-topic issues’: land ownership and election dispute. However, even when speaking to the successes of the Kenyan judiciary, there was a note of uncertainty in Mutunga’s voice. He never came out and said it, but it was evident that he to was wondering if enough had been done and that if the Kenyan judiciary, in its infancy, would be able to handle the stress of a national election.

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In recent weeks, this uncertainty has begun to take form, as Mutunga received threats  regarding the decision the Kenyan court to permit Kenyatta and his running mate (both indictees to the ICC) to have the capacity to run for President. He is not the only person to be receiving such threats. A letter has been circulation among judges and ambassadors saying that if Kenyatta is not permitted to participate in the election the judges and ambassadors should “buy their own coffins and graves”.  Threat like these make one question whether the Kenya court system will be able to withstand the pressure of the Presidentialelection, or whether it will, once again, fall to corruption.

Such a turn to corruption would be a tremendous disappointment given all the work Mutunga has put in to foster the development of a culture of democracy and separation so judiciary in Kenya. Mutunga and other judges have, in the past six months, taken to thestreets of Kenya to inform the public about the working of the court system and how it provides a mechanism for conflict resolution without the need to resort to violence. Mutunga continues to appeal to Kenyans, calling for peaceful elections, arguing that holding a peaceful vote is the only way forward for Kenya.

Given the pressure by the international community and the vast structural changes in the Kenya judiciary since the last election, I am cautiously hopeful that the elections will be peaceful – that is without the escalationof violence to the same level as the last election. That being said, frustrations and animosities are undoubtedly apparent, leaving ambiguity as to what the result will be in actuality. So at the present moment, the world continues to hold its breath as Kenya moves one days closer to elections.

Links about 2007 violence and fears of violence for this election can be found on PeaceMedia:

http://peacemedia.usip.org/resource/kenya-look-post-election-violence

http://peacemedia.usip.org/resource/fears-violence-kenya-prepares-p…