Tag Archives: Arab Spring

Building a Sound Democracy in Egypt

What we see in Egypt is a tragedy so far, especially for the people, since they continue to suffer, and also for the world, which urgently requires more stability and to see countries succeed on their way to democratization, peace, and enhanced well-being for society. How can Egypt achieve building a sound democracy “in a second round” since the beginning of the Arab spring? Here a proposal for a sequence of required steps:

1. Defining Joint Goals, Creating a Joint Vision
The first step in building a strong and healthy society and democracy must be forming a joint vision of what the people of a society want to achieve.

The overarching goal for the Egyptian people should be building a balanced society in which everyone gets a chance to live a decent life and has the freedom to do what they like to do – as long as it does not harm any other person.

Present power holders should work with randomly selected activists and thinkers from society on defining goals and a joint vision and communicate with society on these goals in order to build a joined agreed platform.

2. Clarifying the Principles of a Functioning Democracy
The present government must communicate with the people on the rational and philosophical principles which are necessary as a foundation for a functioning democracy. The general guideline must be the Categorical Imperative by Kant, which states that everybody must act in a fashion with which everybody else in society must be able to agree. The common guideline that the freedom of one person ends where the freedom of the other person begins applies as well. Restrictions on and oppression of other peoples’ opinions and lifestyles, in as far as they don’t violate necessary rules and regulations, cannot lead to a functioning and strong democracy.

The government should discuss and communicate these issues clearly with all people in the Egyptian society. It must ensure that everybody in society understands why following certain fundamental principles is necessary in building a healthy democratic society.

3. Religion
Government must especially clarify with the entire population of Egypt which role religion can have in a democratic society.

Religion has much to offer to humanity. Many people look for deeper answers which they do not find in societies which are mainly focused on worldly pleasures and rewards.

But religion must also understand that ultimately there is no proof for religious beliefs and that God, if we believe He exists, in fact has created human beings to be different, at least on the outset. He placed people in different cultures and religious environments; He gave people different minds and the freedom to think and to choose the way they would like to live.

Religions must understand that they cannot force other people in a society or the world to live under their chosen principles. People who believe in a God must accept and even love other human beings as God has created them. If religious people want to have influence on the way a society lives, they can only do this by example and by gentle and caring persuasion.

As the German philosopher Lessing wrote in his play “Nathan the Wise”, the religion is the best religion which accumulates the greatest number of friends over time. Killing or oppressing other people created by God does not make sense. Making friends must be the goal of a religion, appreciating the diversity of creation, not coercion or aggression.

For Egypt the fact that people have been created to be different in thinking and culture means religious values cannot be used in any manner which restrains the values and freedom of other people. Democracy must allow religious freedom for everybody including atheism. Generally only those standards can be enshrined in a constitution which are necessary for the functioning of a society (unless all people were to agree voluntarily on stricter standards, something, which is unlikely to happen).

4. Employment and Income
A political system must aim to help people to fulfill their needs as specified for example in the pyramid of needs by the American psychologist Maslow. To fulfill their prime needs such as the need for food, shelter, and safety people need jobs and income.

To create jobs and income is one of the first tasks of a government. But government cannot do it alone. Creating jobs and income depends on the combined intelligence, endeavors, and on the co-operation of all people and institutions in a society. Jobs and income also depend of course on the natural resources a country offers.

The government must formulate reasonable goals with respects to jobs and income. It must explain to its people on which factors the creation of jobs and income depend, so expectations are realistic and people know what to do generally in order to earn an income.

In tough times all public resources, must be pooled and directed to the common aim of creating jobs and a stable society. Efforts must be rewarded, but any siphoning off of resources cannot be allowed. Building a sound and healthy democracy must be considered a joint, but voluntary effort by all.

Creating jobs and income in a difficult global economic environment requires excellent policy making strategies and capacities. One sector which Egypt should be focusing on is tourism. But tourism requires stability, making people feel safe and comfortable. As pointed out above, religious activists who try to disturb peace in the country sin against the diversity of God’s creation. In turn, a society which expects peaceful and constructive behavior by all its citizens must be just. It must allow everybody to live freely and support people where it can in making a decent living.

5. The Conditions for Effectiveness and Efficiency in Democratic Policy Making
All in all building a strong and healthy democracy first of all requires all people committing to work together to achieve this aim.

They must then put the parameters in place which are necessary to make democracy effective. More specifically they must ensure that:

1. Their democratic policy making system uses the best systems and processes for policy making, systems and processes which serve the well-being of all people.
2. All politicians have a certain minimum set of qualifications
3. Politicians apply the best practices defined under point 1 (so there is no scope for corruption, nepotism).
4. The institutions (including government) which lead the country have the required resources to do their jobs as effectively as possible (if resources are limited government must focus on a reduced number of key tasks)

For the parameters necessary for maximum effectiveness and efficiency in democratic policy making see also the graph Factors Determining the Effectiveness of Democracy

6. The Need for Effective Citizen Control
Finally people must realize that their democratic policy system is unlikely to ever be really effective without citizens themselves controlling the policy making system effectively. Citizens must establish an effective control system over policy making, an effective citizens’ association controlling the operations of the democratic system on their behalf (like a referee controlling a football match).

Effective control requires know-how, power, resources, and communication. To establish the best democratic policy making system people need the best know-how. They must establish a know-how system which informs the citizens what the best systems and processes in democratic policy making are. Citizens must join to accumulate the necessary power to ensure the best practices identified are in fact applied. All citizens should contribute a small amount to establish a citizens’ control system in order to ensure everybody has a voice and that the control organization truly represents all members of society. The control organization needs these funds to be able to work effectively.

7. The Implementation
People must recognize that this process is necessary to get to a satisfactory solution. Building effective citizen control, however, and building effective governing processes and systems takes a while.

The focus must, therefore, to start with be on:

• Establishing the joint will in society to work for a sound and strong society and democracy.

• Committing to and securing peace in the country.

• Getting back to work to create the necessary income, products and service for fulfilling the fundamental needs of people.

A first concrete goal must be to establish peace and to make visitors feel welcome so tourism is revived as a source of income for the people in Egypt (not easy due to economic difficulties in many countries).

The government must also as soon as possible set out a step by step schedule for the process of building a sound society and an effective democracy. It must schedule

• the steps for building a healthy, independent constructive citizen control organization over the policy making system (even if this initiative must in principle come from the people the government should recognize the need for such an organization and support its establishment. The organization offers a way to citizens for their constructive participation in policy making).

• the steps for building a healthy government and administration.

• Government also must specify goals and the necessary steps for creating jobs and employment.

8. Communication
The government must constantly communicate with people on this process. It must ensure that all people in society understand and support the necessary principles and steps for building a functioning democracy. It must communicate on achievements, on things to do next, on difficulties.

Through the way it acts and communicates the government must be perceived as honest, trustworthy, competent and reliable.

9. The Responsibility of the People
Ultimately the people must understand that they themselves are responsible for building an effective and sound democratic system. Establishing effective control and know-how organizations is crucial.

Protests will not generate a sustainable and effective solution for Egypt and its people. Establishing a functioning democracy requires constructive and effective work. Protest, therefore, must change to constructive action of the highest caliber. (If governments do not respond to such constructive work, protests might be necessary again.)

People of all reaches of society must cooperate in establishing an effective control organization over the democratic policy making system.

10. Advantages
The proposed process allows the people of Egypt to work together in a constructive way on the task of establishing a fair and effective democratic policy making system. It gives the people control over the system.

Since the proposed process combines establishing the best know-how with effective citizen control, it must lead to the best democratic policy making system conceivable for Egypt and its people, a system which will be able to handle public resources in the most effective way possible, which will be able to design the best policies to generate employment and income in the country, and ensure that the well-being of the people can be enhanced in as much as possible.

Finally establishing a sound democracy on the basis of the proposed process will allow the people of Egypt to cooperate with the people of all nations in solving the urgent problems our globe is facing and in maintaining the globe in a good state for future generations, something which the international community will certainly welcome very highly.

Why optimize democracy?

Many regions in the world and the world as a whole are facing severe actual or potential crises:
1. Global warming could well turn into the most existential crisis for human beings across the globe the world has seen so far.
2. The West has been seeing increasing gaps in income and wealth and wide unemployment, especially also among the young generation, already dubbed the “lost generation”.
3. The Arab countries are struggling to build effective democracies which help to secure fair opportunities and balanced well-being for all its citizens.

In addition the fight against global poverty remains a gigantic task after more than 60 years of international development corporation. We see conflicts in many parts of the world over matters of religion, land or resources which urgently need to be resolved in order to avoid further unnecessary bloodshed. Pollution affects the state of the globe everywhere. Our oceans are covered with carpets of plastic rubbish the size of central Europe, rubbish which also threatens to enter the human food chain. No individual human being would approve of such pollution, but the policy systems we have in place do not prevent it. At the same time the expected steady increase of the global population to 9 billion by the year 2050 continues to add to the pressure on the resources of the globe year by year. Finally, as a completely different problem largely unnoticed by the public in the light of these more imminent challenges, advances in biogenetic medicine could well endanger even the dignity of human life. Our policy making systems would have to keep us updated on those developments and, next to the benefits, the risks for humanity involved in them.

Democracy as we operate it does not appear to be able to cope with these challenges.

It has a number of inherent deficits which need to be fixed. One of them is that it forces politicians to look out for the next day’s headlines and for votes in the next elections, rather than for long-term and sustainable problem solutions. Another problem of democracy is corruption, more generally the tendency of many politicians to put their own benefit above their work for the common good, a problem widespread in many countries. Those deficits severely affect the capacity of democratic policy making systems to cope with the economic and other challenges of our time.

As a consequence of the ineffectiveness of democracies in dealing with the problems especially in the area of economics we have seen and keep seeing uprisings in many countries such as Greece, Spain, Portugal, as well as the rise of the Occupy movement in the US and Europe. Also the London riots of 2011 have been attributed to the lack of opportunities for the young generation and the fact that, as a consequence, many young people do not have a stake in society.

Since the pressure on employment and income in the West is likely to rise with ongoing globalization, some observers consider it highly likely that the number of protests and riots will increase. They warn against a potential outright economic and social collapse of the old industrialized societies in the years to come. The distinguished British-American historian Tony Judt writes: “ Few in the West today can conceive of a complete breakdown of liberal institutions, an utter disintegration of the democratic consensus. But what we know of World War II – or the former Yugoslavia – illustrates the ease with which any society can descend into Hobbesian nightmares of unrestrained atrocity and violence”.

Our only chance: Optimizing the performance of democracy

All problems mentioned above, global warming, pollution of the globe, unemployment, global population growth and establishing balanced well-being in a world in which 80% of the people live in so-called developing countries are problems of the highest complexity and urgency. Many of those issues are interdependent, such as reducing poverty, creating peace, establishing strong economies, and effective administrative systems. Also in our interconnected world the economic development in other countries is likely to affect employment and well-being in our own country.

Dealing with such interdependence and complexity, fighting those challenges and avoiding crises potentially arising from them, requires the most effective and efficient use of our resources. We have to get our priorities right in the way we spend our resources and we must learn, how to achieve our goals in each policy area with the minimum amount of resources necessary, so we can free resources up for other tasks. Achieving these goals requires the most effective policy making systems conceivable.

The goal of only “enhancing” the performance of our democratic policy making systems is not enough in the light of these challenges and the existential risks connected with some of them. In a highly competitive sport athletes will tickle every bit of reserve out of their bodies. They will optimize any element of their preparation from training to nutrition and mental fitness to enhance their competitiveness. For democratic states the complexity of the challenges and the highly competitive nature of the world today mean that also their national and international systems must perform to the highest standards and make the best use of any resources available to them. On the international level we must jointly create the very best systems and procedures to handle the problems our globe is facing.

Optimizing Democracy, setting up a competent and fair policy making system of the highest standards, is also of relevance for countries which try to build sustainable and strong democratic systems, for example Egypt, countries which need to provide fair and equal chances and balanced well-being to different ethnic, cultural and religious segments in their societies in order to establish and maintain peaceful and productive co-existence between these segments.