Archives for posts with tag: democracy

I am writing this on my last day in Benghazi. I was supposed to leave on a flight at 8 am but I am stranded here because my flight has been, ehrm, delayed. So delayed I might end up driving back to Egypt tomorrow instead. The flight operation was managed between Italy, Malta and Egypt – the only way this could get worse is if the flight attendants were French. Of course none could have seen this cock-up coming.

I wish I could blog about my five weeks in Benghazi – but partly because I do not feel that a blog is the best platform to bitch and moan (or boast) about my work and partly because I am drained I do not think I will. Or maybe in the future I will, who knows. So you will not hear me talk about being given a morality check by a petroleum engineer; or sitting through endless coordination meetings that look like this; or having the pleasure to be on the receiving end of some 20 phone calls every day from journalists that cannot take no for an answer or being called a misogynist racist over-paid aid worker by a Spanish journalist that then called me a faggot.

So what I am going to talk about is the reactions I have been getting from people when I tell them that I will be leaving Egypt in August. Reactions from foreigners who just got off the boat but also some well seasoned expats that have been marinating in the region since Anwar El Sadat was in elementary school.

When I say that I will be taking unpaid leave from my job and thus leave Egypt in June, jaws drop and I am usually asked why I would live the region right now when things are getting ‘real exciting’. The same way you would tell someone who is leaving the cinema room in the midst of a gory murder scene to go buy pop corn.

I do not know why but I get slightly offended by these comments, by the superficiality of it. I feel like people are saying: why would you voluntarily give up a front seat as angry Arabs try to fight for their freedom? Maybe you will get to take a snap shot as the tanks roll into Deraa and get to post it on flickr or maybe you will be telling the grand-children that you watched the revolution as it took place on twitter and conversed with the local activists over Turkish coffee and shisha, part Robert Fisk part Lawrence of Arabia.

If you are enjoying watching churches being burnt down on TV in your flat in Zamalek and then blogging about it for the friends back home, than darling please call yourself by your real name: a free rider. Not paying any of the costs yet enjoying the benefits. (Sorry if this offends anyone – maybe I am also an opinionated, holier than thou free rider, but at least I am ok with it).

So here it is my thoughts on why I am not dying of fear of missing out:

  • Things are not just getting interesting. The region (and the world even, shall we say) is an interesting place even when things do not make headlines.
  • In my personal opinion, the real revolution has not even started and probably it will not start until a few months down the line. The symbols of power have been taken down, but the link between power and money has not been severed (let’s think large monopolistic interests linked to strategic industries such as the military). Ahmed Ezz maybe in prison, but I did not see many headlines on how the steel monopoly in Egypt is going to be open up to free and fair competition. Never been a fan of economic liberalism nor I am arguing that it is a cure, but I feel that if things change they will change when resources (especially public ones) are more equally redistributed and this is one of the issues that could be a litmus test – more so than democratic elections that can be used as a way to pacify outsiders and insiders’ anxiety about democratic reform (read: psychosis of a take-over by the Muslim Brothers) without really creating a shift in they way a country is run (again, not saying elections are useless, just they might end up being more of a symbol rather than a real process until they become an established pattern).

So let me get on with my life for a year or two and maybe come back when things will get even more interesting, yet they most probably will not be making the news (also, on a slightly different topic, a screenshot of what’s hot on aljazeera today, bonus material just for kicks).

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Well, if it makes anyone feel better: Egypt, you are not alone. Democracy means being the victim of your fellow citizens’ idiocy. Trust the Italian on this one.

While theoretically direct democracy (of which referenda are the best example) is the ultimate realization of political participation, in reality there are a lot of things that can go wrong. For one, you have black and white decisions to be made (yes or no – ya3ani is not an option).  Referendum questions can be (and usually are) complicated. In a country where most people hardly ever set foot in a polling station of their own volition, it is safe to assume that the average voter is not well-versed in Egyptian Constitutional Law. Finally, politicians and media play a huge role in how public perception is shaped around the issues, up to the point that the actual crux of the referendum gets lost in political warfare.

Anyways, just to prove that direct democracy fails even in the most advanced (cough cough) democracies:

Of course the disasters of direct democracy are usually corrected by solid institutions such as the European Court of Human Rights (for the minaret ban) or state institution (in the case of DOMA) or auspicious events such as the imminent dissolution of the Catholic Church.

Despite the merit of the vote which I am in no place to comment on, there are two things that stands out: a 41% turnout and a 77% of people voting for yes.

The low turnout means that the majority is silent. More like, deaf and mute.

On the 77%, if any of you ever had the pleasure of taking a political economy class (sarcasm is my second language, did I mention that?) your lecturer would have bombarded with the notion of the median voter’s theorem. I will spare the long boring talk but basically it is a bit of an anomaly how skewed the results of this vote were in favour of ‘yes’. In Italian, we call elections with over 65 % of votes going in one direction as ‘Bulgarian Consensus’. Something just wasn’t free and fair. Not just the procedural aspects, but also how the referendum was communicated to voters. In most referenda I have voted for (and god, don’t we love wasting our tax money on direct democracy in Italy), the split is usually 50-50 or at best 40-60. So this is my shopping list of why I think the vote was so abnormal in its 77-percentedness:

  • The topic was very complex (constitutional amendments, last time I checked it was not bawab’s forte)
  • All the questions were lumped together so it was a packaged deal, take it or leave it. One might argue that constitutional reform ought to be a tad bit more nuanced. The fact that 77% of people agreed on all of those issues is a bit bizarre.
  • Article 2 on the religion and other attributes of the president (hardly Egypt’s most pressing priority at this stage, methinks) was thrown into the lot just for kicks or, if you are a cynical bastard like myself, to play off the secular vs the religious, the christians vs the muslims, the brazar muslimhood vs the salafi, my landlady vs. my bawab etc…
  • And finally, the referendum was organized in 3 weeks, against the backdrop of tanks in the street and media trying to cope with regional politics slowly imploding and various other  shenanigans such as torture of civilians.

So in the end, my impression is that most people were too flustered to concentrate on the essence of the referendum question and interpreted this vote as a vote of confidence in the army. And with generations of Egyptians being raised loving stability even if it means they get screwed sideways from life, one might not be surprised of this Mubarak-like consensus.

But my final question is: does this vote really matter? If the army is committed to democratic transition the yes vote does not matter because in the end they are going to devolve powers to a civilian government and Egypt is going to be the land of milk and honey. If the army is not committed to democratic transition, even if a no vote had won, they would have done whatever it pleased them anyways.