Sunday, 6 February 2011

What would I do?

The crisis in Egypt has led me to ask what I would be doing if I was Egyptian.

Firstly, I am no fan of Mubarak. His regime has - by the standards of the region - not been bad, but by our standards has been very poor. Corruption - both political and institutional - is rife. It is not a functioning democracy. If I was Egyptian I would want him to go.

However, I am also a conservative with a small 'c'. Change is necessary, but should only be undertaken if we can be fairly sure that the change is for the best (*). I abhor change for change's sake; it is nothing more than a gamble.

It is hard to know how you would behave in such a different political climate. I would like to think that I would have been on the streets (were I brave enough) for the first set of protests. However, when Mubarak agreed not to stand in the September elections I would have been happy, as long as those months were spent working out exactly *what* sort of democracy would emerge. A period of cool deliberation is vital, especially when they have such a poor starting position.

That is why today's news about the formation of a committee to study constitutional reform is to be welcomed. Let Mubarak stay in his job as a weakened figurehead whilst the future shape of the country is decided. And yes, that should include the Muslim Brotherhood, however distasteful I find some of their rhetoric. They have 20% of the seats in parliament despite the hurdles placed in their way; it is only right for them to have a say.

Of course, as a secularist I believe a secular, democratic Egypt - with Islamist leanings (in the same way the UK's laws and traditions have a Christian base) - is for the best.

At times democracy may be weak, ineffectual, annoying and even downright perverse, but it is undoubtedly the key to a just society. And Egyptian men and women deserve a just society.

(*) A classic example being Labour's alterations to the House of Lords, something I have a bee in my bonnet about. An argument could be made for getting rid of the majority of the hereditary peers, but only if the replacement system were better. However they removed the hereditary peers and did not specify a replacement, allowing all the parties to stuff the Lords with cronies. This has directly led to the recent debacles and, perversely, less democracy than there was with hereditary peers.

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