Egypt was home to an ancient civilizations that flourished along the banks of river Nile with the remains of the great Pyramids offering a glimpse into its magnitude and highlighting how Pharaohs were larger than life figures in that society. It is indeed fascinating to rationalize the massive resources and man power spent constructing burial sites for a few godlike figures at the expense of the masses. Days of worshipping pharaohs are long gone and Egyptians are instead challenging the fabric of what we have come to know as western democracy. The distinction between the conduct of the government and the expectation of an empowered populace has been as stark as the sands of the Sahara desert meeting the fertile soils of the Nile river valley.
The Egyptians are indeed setting a standard and emphatically stating that being president is not a promotion to the capacity of Pharaoh but rather a position of public service. It would be too simplistic to argue that calling for regime change a year after electing new leadership is a threat to democracy. Indeed the common rebuttal is to suggest that citizens work though the political process and institutions of government to make their voices heard. Cultivating a truly democratic state is a long journey filled with barriers but enactment of individual liberties and a level playing field doesn’t require decades— the Egyptian populace has spoken that they are unwilling to wait in line. Fool me once- as leaders in young democracies often hide behind the walls of power consolidation with large signs reading “work in progress” is a bubble that has been busted.
It is not only self evident in Egypt but rather across the globe that upward mobility and having a fair shot for millions languishing in poverty is a myth. The game is indeed rigged and has been for generations. The institutions of government are often at the mercy of special interest and the constitution– supposedly the law of the land used as bedrock for oppression. The changing demographics and thirst for inclusive governance rebukes individuals amassing power and mandates a triangulated agenda. Morsi’s failure to remember the demands of the protestors that opened the window of opportunity for the presidency and his lack of initiative to change course from the status quo left the populace hopeless and helpless with only one institution of democracy to turn to— ‘Tahrir square’. Growing economic, social and political discontent has resulted into the fall of numerous regimes amidst the Arab Spring and widespread protests and conflict continue to plague a growing list of nations that include Syria and Brazil among others.
As Thomas Jefferson once stated, “When the people fear their government, there is tyranny; when the government fears the people, there is liberty.” Tahrir square has become a launch pad for ‘people power’ in Egypt and inspired others across the globe. This renewed belief has empowered disenfranchised populace and sent a chill down the spine of leaders who have for long assumed the status of Pharaohs using national resources to construct pyramids. The fear of ‘people power’ is evident as governments in nations like Uganda have militarized public venues such as the City Square and also scrambled to pass laws that prohibit public gathering without first seeking approval. As a result of shutting down these essential checks and balances in many of our nations, the “people” have been separated from the government of the people, by the people and for the people. We are left in the midst of a poorly governed- empty shell of a democracy.
‘Tahrir Square Democracy’ is a paradigm shift and declaration that the people shall not let history repeat itself. History tells us that first they ask for one year, then one term, then two, then three– by the time we wake up, it’s too late for reform and the walls of oppression and tyranny built to consolidate power are too high and fortified to climb. Egypt faces a challenging and uncertain future but the determination and civic engagement of the populace is democracy at work. What the people have accomplished (with some help from the military) sends a strong message nonetheless to future leaders that they too will be held accountable not only by ballot but also the voices of the people anytime they deviate from the responsibility to serve.