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Pressing their votes on palettes at their chair-side after listening to a lengthy debate, audiences of a Doha Debate special, hosted in Egypt, chose not to champion hasty elections over real democracy.
The Access to Knowledge for Development Center (A2K4D) of the School of Business at AUC hosted the debate at its Tahrir campus, situated at a corner overlooking Tahrir Square, the epicenter of the revolution.
Debaters on both ends of the panel were deeply polarized over how to structure - and even set a deadline for - the transitional period.
“This fast-food democracy can only create indigestion,” Marwa Sharafeldine, a women’s rights activist, said.
At her side, Shaheer George, a member of the National Association of Change and Kifaya, cautioned against quick-fix democratic measures.
“Don’t rush us,” he said.
On the other end of the panel, Essam El-Erian, Muslim Brotherhood’s spokesperson, disagreed.
He said he would vote ‘yes’ to the constitutional amendments in the March 19 referendum.
Sherif Taher, a leading member of the liberal Al Wafd party, said that voting ‘no’ would not rein in democracy, but that “perfect is not good, we cannot wait for a perfect democracy.”
Some in the Tahrir campus’s Arabesque Oriental Hall suggested that a new constitution be written from scratch.
“We need a provisional constitution based on national dialogue,” George said. He explained that he was not keen that democratic reform be led-by the Egyptian Armed Forces, which has had a freehand in managing Egypt’s affairs, and in the make-up of the constitutional committee.
When Tim Sebastian, who served as a moderator for the panel, posed the question whether the young activists were perpetuating military rule by postponing elections, Sharafeldine implied that Sebastian was himself perpetuating an old regime ideology, “to choose between between Mubarak or instability, and now, either elections or instability.”
Panelists were met by questions from the audience regarding Egypt’s security status as it approaches democracy, concerns namely over the thinning of police on the streets, the appropriation of their role by military police and tanks, and constant reports of thuggery.
“Military rule cannot continue,” Sharafeldine said; the four panelists concurred.
Taher explained that in case of the upcoming elections, “people will not allow [them] to be rigged,” but that dangers such as organized thuggery would vandalize elections in the long-run.
This was a moot point in discussion as Sharafeldine said that she has heard of some vote-buying schemes.
She added that elections would be “rigged in spirit,” with the old regime, and “cartoon parties,” as George put it, forming the plain color strain of elections.
Both panelists for the motion particularly argued that more time was needed for political parties to build themselves up.
El-Erian responded that such groups were always present, but dormant.
“All parties form themselves during the campaign. They were not formed suddenly in Tahrir square. They were all there,” he said.
El-Erian additionally invited other parties to start-up an alliance with the Brotherhood as was the case in the 1984 and 1987 elections. In response to an audience member, he added that his group was not stealing “part of the cake,” and that setting a target of [35 percent of] seats to contest was made in planning like any other political party.
“Democracy without pluralism is a farce,” George re-iterated, still incredulous that he would find pluralism in an elected parliament, paved by a “dead” 1971-old constitution.
Taher shed light on the current political plurality that consists of four sectors: the conservatives like the Muslim Brotherhood groups, the Nasserites, the liberal bloc, and the left bloc.
“Each one of us will ultimately elect one of these,” he added.
When Sharafeldine proposed her plan of an interim president or a presidential council to be instituted during Egypt’s transitional period, Taher referred her back to the same pertaining issues: Who is to elect them?
“Do you know any other way other than elections in which you can elect a presidential council or an interim president? Do you want the military to choose our president for us?”
Though divided on the way, the will and achievement of democracy was the pivot around which the panel revolved.
“Smaller jihad [struggle] is fighting battles, while the greatest is democracy,” El-Erian said.