The Egyptian people have won. They have successfully, peacefully and non-violently achieved their goal; they got Hosni Mubarak to step down. Mahatma Gandhi would have been proud. The Egyptian people have reasserted, not only for Egypt, but for every country in the world, the idea of government by the people.
But now, they have a bigger task ahead of them. The creation of a real democracy.
What they have achieved is not democracy but freedom from tyranny. Democracy has still to be established and that is what they are grappling with. It is frightening to see their dependence on the army. The military is not grounded on principles of democracy; it follows a strict chain of command and ordinary soldiers do not have a voice in the way the military operates. Ordinary soldiers initiate nothing; they follow orders. So for Egypt to be dependent on an authoritarian institution to create a democracy, is not encouraging.
What the Egyptians must retain from recent events is the understanding that they, the people, have power and they do not give it up simply by casting votes. They have to be vigilant as ordinary citizens and must take action, not after thirty years of autocracy, but immediately the monster begins to raise its head. And it will do so because power corrupts. In present day forms of democracy, people give up their power when they vote. That would be fine if we could trust politicians.
What the Egyptians must cling to is people power. No matter how wonderful a revolutionary leader seems, as a politician he will change; he will forget that he is there because the people put him there. He will see himself as, to put it in Mubarak’s words, “the Father of the Nation,” and not as the people’s representative.
Democracy can no longer operate in the old way where people elect a government and trust them with their welfare. Politicians are not to be trusted. Neither is big business which has never pretended to be democratic. The Press and the Media and an “independent” judiciary are not enough to safeguard democracy.
Institutions that answer directly to the people must be set up to protect the people from politicians. We have to stop corruption right from the start and we have to impress upon politicians that democracy means ensuring that ordinary people have opportunities to develop and that they can obtain basic needs such as decent housing with all the services that that implies and that they are not imprisoned in education systems that lead nowhere.
And it is important to watch the alliances that develop between countries. Countries such as the US create alliances for their own welfare and at the expense of the less developed country in which rulers become puppets on the one hand and dictators on the other. And the pretence that the US uses is that they are extending democracy.
There is no country in the world where people, no matter what their understanding of democracy, are not victims of government and big business. In the developed world, the people have been drugged by consumerism and have become as dependent as people in less developed countries. The main difference is that people in developed countries are not dependent on government for essential services.
There is only one test for democracy: the poverty test. Poverty and corruption walk hand in hand. No poverty, means no corruption. And that means a measure of democracy, where the concept “equal opportunity” is understood and practised..