Once again, we find ourselves in a difficult situation. The powers controlling Egypt seem determined to foil our transition to democracy. I had previously written a post about the fallacy of the “majority is always right” mantra that certain people seem to espouse without second thought, and I think it is time to revive the arguments I made in that post.
First, some background; SCAF, the military council ruling Egypt, oversaw the creation of a so-called supra-constitutional document. This document is supposed to provide binding guidelines that cannot be violated when our new constitution is formed. The document starts of in a great way, it is essentially an Egyptian version of the US bill of rights. It stipulates principles of citizenship and equality before the law that no sane person (outside theocratic parties) could argue with.
Unfortunately, the document takes a turn for the worse soon afterwards. The most disturbing thing about the document, and other related announcements made by SCAF, is that it seeks to place the military outside the scope of civilian oversight. Let us try to examine some of the more atrocious ideas that SCAF tried to push through.
First, the parliament that we are supposed to elect into office in the next few weeks will be stripped of all traditional legislative powers. According to the rules that SCAF tried to push through, parliament, the only institution that will have a mandate from the public once it is elected into office, cannot form a cabinet.
Instead, SCAF reserves the right to form a cabinet without consulting parliament. It gets worse; parliament will not have the ability to create news laws, instead its only function will be to discuss and reject or accept laws formulated by the SCAF appointed cabinet or SCAF itself. So, for all intents and purposes, the parliament will be a lame duck institution — essentially a glorified debate society.
As if that wasn’t enough, a large proportion of the committee that is supposed to be formed to write a new constitution after the parliamentary elections will be appointed by SCAF rather than chosen by parliament. And the stupidity doesn’t stop there, the final insult is that SCAF tried to pass a law making the military’s budget secret and not subject to civilian oversight.
This is the most ridiculous part of the charade. In which alternative universe is the military of a country allowed to have a secret budget? The military is supposed to work for the state, and the state is responsible for providing it with funds. The military should not have any source of funds outside the amount of money allocated to it by the state. If the military has other sources of income, these should be publicly declared, and the state should judge if these sources of income detract from the main function of the military: defending the state against foreign aggression.
If the military has a secret budget that includes sources of income outside the state’s control, how can we guarantee that the military will follow the instructions of the state? Will the military refuse to go to war when instructed to do so? Or will it initiate a war that is against the will of the elected government? The military is NOT an independent branch of government like the judiciary, legislative and executive branches. Rather, it is a tool of the state that should be under the state’s control.
When people objected to this charade in demonstrations, they were attack by the security apparatus and vilified by state media. The clashes that followed have led to tens of deaths and hundreds (thousands?) of injured.
When asked to hand over power to a civilian presidential council, SCAF replied by proposing a referendum to see if the majority of people want it to step down or not. Here is my beef with this so-called referendum, the majority is not always right. As a matter of fact, the majority is quite often completely wrong.
See this post for some examples. Fundamental rights and the basic tenets of democracy cannot be put to a vote. There are unalienable rights that cannot be taken away from the individual because the majority wishes to deprive him/her of these rights. Similarly, there are basic democratic principles, like the elected legislature being responsible for creating laws rather than insisting that this power reside with an unelected military council, that cannot be subject to a vote. The offer to hold a referendum is a delay tactic, the military is counting on the ignorance of the majority to pass through undemocratic laws that will safeguard it’s disproportionate role in the country.
The offer to hold a referendum is a tool to silence political activists. The military knows that the majority of ignorant people will vote for stability over democracy, also, the Muslim Brotherhood, arguably the largest political group in post-Mubarak Egypt and definitely the most well organized, has expressed support for the continuation of SCAF in it’s current role. Thus the military knows that it would probably win if a referendum where held today to see whether people want it to maintain its current role or not.
What referendum are they talking about? A referendum on the false choice between stability (SCAF stays in place) and “chaos” (SCAF quits)? The way SCAF is framing the question is ridiculous. There is no need for a referendum, even if a majority of people voted to allow the military to have a secret budget, it would still be wrong and completely undemocratic. Hope people wake up and smell the stench of this atrocious policy.