Egypt Leads the way

February 24, 2013 | By More

Social justice is about removing structures that abuse and subjugate citizens and turn them into
powerless victims of oligarchies and autocracies. It is about ensuring that public authorities
reflect the values, and serve the needs and rights, of citizens. Egypt leads the way in this
important new dynamic, in which millions of individuals have come together to demand that
the authorities rule with the consent of the governed. In the Egyptian case, the citizenry are
insisting that the transitional authority, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, carry out the
key demands of the January revolution. For the first time, public opinion matters in some Arab
countries.

The new Egyptian regime swiftly assuaged some grievances through moves to arrest,
investigate and try former officials; dissolve Parliament and outlaw Mubarak’s National
Democratic Party; and suspend the Constitution and write a new one subject to public
approval. The beginning, in early August, of the trial of Mubarak, his sons and former officials
was a powerful turning point in the Egyptian and Arab political psyche, because it reaffirmed
the ordinary citizen’s trust in a system that held power accountable and put in the dock officials
accused of abusing, robbing or killing fellow citizens. Less rapid progress has been made,
though, on lifting the state of emergency; protecting protesters and holding police accountable
for killing demonstrators; reforming the security forces; limiting executive authority; fighting
corruption; and improving economic conditions for ordinary Egyptians. These issues resonate
widely across the Arab world. How governments respond to them will determine whether
societies make a smooth transition to democracy or street confrontations persist for some
time.

Even as demands grow for these three building blocks of credible governance—the basic rights
of the citizen and citizenry, and a legitimate state authority that is accountable to the people’s
demand for social justice—we are witnessing the fourth element in the Arab Awakening: the
birth of politics. In Tunisia and Egypt, citizens are directly contesting for power by forming
groups that engage politically with other groups to define new state norms and policies. These
include civil society organizations, religious movements, political parties, the private sector,
military authorities, youth groups, labor movements, women’s organizations and many others.
As this contest for and over power develops through a combination of means—parliamentary,
electoral, judicial and media actions, as well as peaceful street demonstrations—it midwifes the
birth of pluralistic, citizen-based politics. This contrasts sharply with the legacy of Arab decision-
making, monopolized by ruling families and elites who depended heavily on foreign powers for
their survival.

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Category: Arab uprising

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