Egypt is currently without a parliament, after the nation’s last elected house was dissolved by a 2012 court ruling. The previous house was controlled by Islamists, who came to power in the country’s first democratically held vote following the 2011 uprising that ousted longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak.
Egypt’s president opened the new year with a dramatic call for a “revolution” in Islam to reform interpretations of the faith entrenched for hundreds of years, which he said have made the Muslim world a source of “destruction” and pitted it against the rest of the world, reports suggest:
The speech was Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi’s boldest effort yet to position himself as a modernizer of Islam. His professed goal is to purge the religion of extremist ideas of intolerance and violence that fuel groups like al-Qaida and the Islamic State — and that appear to have motivated Wednesday’s attack in Paris on a French satirical newspaper that killed 12 people.
“Any religious modernization will ultimately be against al-Azhar, since it is the conservative fortress in the system,” said Amr Ezzat, religion researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. The “authority of religion over modern life and law is what needs to be reviewed. What we need is freedom to have more than one religious discourse to enrich discussion, because as it is pluralism is outlawed.”
Egypt demonstrates that effective constraints on executive authority – whether through civil society organizations, bills of rights, or countervailing legislative or judicial power – are essential features of stable democracies, argues the Atlantic Council’s Amr Hamzawy.
There are fundamental differences between how the executive authorities are able to operate in nations which enjoy stable democracy, or in which democracy is being developed, and how the executive functions in countries like Egypt, which are steeped in authoritarianism, whether in traditional or modern forms. These differences are:
1. Democratic countries function according to constitutional principles and laws that are applied effectively in order to curb the propensity of governments to repress citizens’ rights and freedoms….However, in countries like Egypt, these constitutional principles and laws often remain mere texts that are not implemented in reality, have no impact for citizens and society, and fail to place limits on the behavior or governments and state institutions. ….
2. Democratic countries have additional constitutional principles and laws that force the government to allow for unimpeded access to information, to operate with transparency, and to ensure accountability ….In contrast, in countries like Egypt, these constitutional principles and laws are absent, and we do not have access to facts and information. …..
3. In democratic countries – no matter how diverse the ideologies, philosophies, and political convictions of the people, and no matter how divergent their economic and social interests – the public is well-aware of the serious dangers of allowing the executive branch to manipulate citizens, encroach on society, or dominate the legislative and judicial authorities. ….Meanwhile, in countries like Egypt, public opinion suffers from constant references – often made in contradiction with the facts of our history and that of other nations – that evoke positive impressions of autocrats who have enjoyed unlimited powers. …
1. Democratic countries have the benefit of diverse press and media outlets that represent a variety of ideological and political leanings. ….In contrast, in countries like Egypt – particularly today – we lack a press that consistently investigates its information and that upholds the principles of objectivity and pluralism, …..
2. Democratic countries boast civil society organizations and political parties that cumulatively possess vast amounts of knowledge, institutional capacity, and human resources. ….However, in countries like Egypt, civil society organizations lack this depth of knowledge, capacity, and experience, as well as broad social support and daily interaction with average citizens….
3. Democratic countries have legislative and judicial authorities that subject the executive authorities to regular monitoring through various mechanisms and procedures….Meanwhile, in countries that are steeped in authoritarianism, whether in traditional or modern forms, we do not have parliaments and courts with such capabilities. ….