The people of Egypt are at this moment standing up in opposition to government not just for the people of Egypt but for all the people of the world. I sincerely hope that their courageous resistance is going to lead the way to real reform in government in all countries of the world.
Democracy which has been a catchword for several decades now does not work for the ordinary citizen. We have governments that rule and their rule really amounts to control. They set themselves up in opposition to the people and create huge bureaucracies to control and restrict. For governments, the holding of elections seems to constitute the be-all and end-all of democratic governance. And in the less developed countries, once elections are over, gross excesses of corruption take place. As reported in the news, the Egyptian President has amassed a fortune of between forty and seventy billion dollars, meanwhile a large proportion of the Egyptian people have to survive on a few dollars a day.
In most of the less developed countries, the cost of essential services to ordinary people is steadily rising, and living standards are falling. In the more developed countries where people are less trusting of governments and where political parties can be toppled by the election process, governments have to pay some heed to the people.
Only the middle classes, the BEE beneficiaries, are safe. Middle classes are created to act as a buffer between the poor and the government. That is why in Egypt, while thousands of poor people are gathered in Tahrir and Liberation squares, the middle class is playing tennis, going riding and hoping that Mubarak will prevail. The apartheid government was busy creating a black middle class before the revolution overtook it. The new government completed the process.
In African countries, people treat politicians as heroes and put too much trust in them. That old saying ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ is being clearly demonstrated in African and Middle Eastern countries, has been demonstrated for decades in many cases, and still people trust the corrupt ones. Talk of transparency and accountability does not help because we, the people, allow governments whose transparency and accountability are in question, to set up the measures for determining transparency and accountability. The press and the judiciary no longer function as effective watchdogs of society because either they are not independent or they do not have the power to withstand the might of the state. One needs only to look at what is happening to Julian Assange. It is extraordinary that he lives in fear of reprisals from the U.S government.
What we need are ways of keeping a check on politicians that do not emanate from them and are not controlled by them. Constitutions should make provision for a citizen controlled means of oversight of Presidents, Prime Ministers, cabinets and members of parliaments.
But we still have to face up to the fact that politicians, unless they also control economic empires, are only puppets in the hands of corporate giants. And people who create the wealth of our countries do not do so by democratic means; they have no time for our little election and consultation games. These are simply our ways of fooling ourselves that we live in democracies. That is probably why our President can talk about not going to heaven if we don’t cast our votes for his party. Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses; now democracy can be equated with religion.