The process of electing the assembly in charge of writing the new Constitution has shown again the recurrent contradiction between the ideals and positions of Egyptian revolutionaries. On the one hand, their struggle to topple Mubarak’s regime was aimed at achieving a democratic country. But on the other, given the hegemony of political Islam in the streets, they demand elitist procedures to shape the outline of the new political system.
In the last days, many activists and liberal political parties argued that MPs should be a small minority in the constitutional assembly. Some even contended that they should be absent from the committee. One of their arguments was that the task of writing the basic law should be assigned to “experts on Constitutional law”. Knowledge and not votes should be the requisite to be in the assembly, they said. Another argument was that, with a direct involvement of the Parliament, all segments of society would not be duly represented.
However, in most countries that have experienced a democratic transition, the Parliament has played an important role in designing the new Constitution. This is normal, since the Parliament is the institution representative of people’s will. Also, from a democratic point of view, it is logical that the Constitution reflects the views and values of the majority of the population.
The problem is that many activist seem to have a condescending view on their fellow citizens, as if they were not smart enough to take the right decisions to shape their own future. And here lies the tough contradiction of Egyptian liberals: they would love to espouse a democracy, but deep in their heart, what they want is a system led by a cultured and non-Islamist minority.
All this said, liberals are right in one of their points: a democracy does not only mean the rule of the majority, but also the respect for the rights of minorities and the weak sectors of society, which in Egypt means women and Copts. Therefore, although is logical that Islamist have a strong influence in the constitutional assembly, they should seek a consensus, and not impose their views on the whole society. In the coming weeks, we will see if they are up to the job.