It has been three years since the removal of Mubarak from the presidency yet the situation on the ground in Egypt appears remarkably the same. One of the goals of the revolution was to end the autocratic tendencies of the presidency and usher in a new period of political and economic freedom. Disillusioned with the perceived autocratic tendencies of Dr. Morsi, some of the revolutionaries went to the streets for a second time and with the aid of the Egyptian army successfully removed him. Almost immediately after removing Dr. Morsi, the new interim government began wiping out any resistance to their rule. This began with closing any channels with opposing views and morphed into establishing laws that limit the freedom of the press, vague definitions of terrorism and the banning of unsanctioned protests. Indeed, it has gotten so bad that Ahmed Maher one of the leaders of the April 6 youth movement (one of the main organizations behind the January 2011 protests that toppled Mubarak) got three years in jail just for protesting without a permit. To understand how draconian this rule is, it is important to compare it with Mubarak, who also got three years in jail. However, Mubarak offense was embezzlement of $17 million dollars of state funds.
What went wrong? Why did the first democratic experiment fail so badly that people are rooting for an autocratic leader fully aware that El-Sissi will not fulfill the two of the primary goals (freedom and liberty) of the revolution? To understand this it is important that the revolutionaries realize that the problem is with the system and not with the man on top. Each of the constitutions that were passed recently just rehashed the same system with empty promises of freedom, sharia, and slight modifications to the breakdown of power among the president, parliament and the judiciary. In Egypt, people can vote only for the president and their parliament or local council representatives. Every other important position in the country gets selected. The president either directly or indirectly selects his prime minister, his cabinet, the governors, the mayors, the interior ministry, the local sheriffs and judges. With so much power in the hands of such few people, how can you not expect the system to become autocratic. More importantly such a system breeds corruption. When a local policeman tortures his prisoners, the only recourse people have to address this is the interior minister, who might not be reachable to common folk. In the same way with the local police only having to answer to the interior minister, they have no incentive to respond to the needs and demands of the local people. In other words, no matter which president comes to power, they will be either deemed autocratic or will be autocratic. Moreover, the system works best only with a strongly autocratic leader.
But this is no excuse or time for revolutionaries to give up now. First, it must be recognized that they have already accomplished one major goal and that is they showed the government that citizens have power and their voices matter. Today the revolutionaries must change tactics to remain a positive force in Egyptian society. They must realize that the solution to truly change the country is by decentralizing political power through decoupling sheriffs, judges, mayors and governors from the president. Instead of protesting against one autocratic president followed by another they need to protest against the unlimited powers of the presidents. They should protest to allow the Egyptian people directly elect their mayors, governors, local sheriffs and local judges. Giving local Egyptians control over their cities and governorates will hopefully bring several positive developments to Egypt. Firstly, it will allow positive political discourse in Egypt and allow a diversity of political opinion to flourish. Some governorates might become Islamist strongholds, other liberal/secular strongholds. This diversity will give Egyptian people the ability to experience what different political ideas such as conservatism, liberalism and socialism actually mean when it comes to governance without creating havoc on the national level. In addition, it allows for political discourse on tangible ideas rather than abstract concepts. It is much easier to make and track a promise to improve the economic conditions of Cairo by reducing traffic gridlock rather than lofty ideals of improving the economy.
Secondly, while local government will not be able to stamp out corruption they will do a better job at controlling it. A sheriff directly responsible to the local people will less likely to allow torture to occur in his police stations. A judge knowing that he will be up for elections will less likely make court decisions based on whim rather than rule of law. Lastly, it will give our youth practical experience in campaigning, politics, holding office and most importantly teach our political leaders the importance of positive political discourse and the importance of compromise to reach the greater good of improving the lives of every Egyptian.
I wish the best to all the revolutionaries out there and remind them that this is only the beginning of the Arab spring and only by working together regardless of political camps/ideals can they change Egypt for the better. I am looking forward to the day when start hearing chants of “We want to elect our governors” in Egyptian streets.