Revolution without Reform? a Critique of Egypt's Election Laws

Article excerpt

Abstract

This Article compares Egypt's election laws before and after the January 25 Revolution to determine whether the changes are sufficient to produce the structural reforms Egyptians demand. This Article concludes that Egyptian elections processes and institutions remain insufficiently transparent, fail to produce results reflecting the diversity within Egyptian society, and fail to offer all Egyptians-especially women and religious minorities-an equal opportunity to actively participate in governance of their country.

The Article critically assesses recent changes in Egypt's electoral regime and considers whether Egypt had a revolution without reform. The thesis is twofold. First, the post-revolution amendments worsen prospects for Egyptian women and Coptics to be elected to office, thereby further marginalizing them in the public sphere. Such adverse consequences are troubling in light of the significant contributions Egyptian women and Coptics made to the revolution. Second, the limited post-revolution reforms made to election laws are insufficient to produce the sustainable and meaningful democracy sought by Egyptians. Existing post-revolution laws fail to create transparent and independent processes that facilitate a level playing field among candidates and voter confidence in election outcomes.

Nonetheless, in this early stage of the post-revolutionary phase, there is reason for cautious optimism. While Egyptian election laws have been amended for the better since the revolution, more legislative reforms are rteeded to ensure that future elections are fair, free, and accessible to all Egyptians. Sound election laws are the bedrock of a democracy insofar as they ensure that a dominant party does not extend its rule against the will of the people. As witnessed with the National Democratic Party under the Mubarak regime, laws can be manipulated to guarantee cer- tain electoral outcomes benefitting the dominant party.

In the end, Egypt is at the initial stages of a protracted transition from entrenched authoritarianism to democracy uniquely tailored to Egyptian cultural and religious norms. One year after their historic revolution, Egyptians have made great strides toward that common goal. Whether post-revolution reforms will be structural and produce a complete upheaval of a corrupt political system, as called for by most Egyptians, or merely superficial changes under the false guise of reform will determine the success of this transition. While it is still too soon to predict the outcome, one thing is quite clear-future political leaders who seek to impose authoritarianism do so at their own peril.

I. Introduction

Revolution without reform is meaningless.1 In the case of Egypt, its people overcame decades of fear and oppression and sacrificed their lives for more than merely overthrowing a dictator. Rather, Egyptians sought to upend an entrenched system of cronyism, nep- otism, and pervasive corruption that squandered the future of an entire generation. Millions of youth protested in droves, demand- ing reforms to the dilapidated education system that required stu- dents to bribe public teachers to teach, expressing rage at their inability to obtain employment despite their college degrees, and calling attention to the troubling rise of poverty that was paralyzing their future.2 Over the course of a historic eighteen-day revolu- tion, beginning on January 25, 2011 (the January 25 Revolution),3 millions of Egyptians took great risks to demand a complete upheaval of the broken system that had failed them.

In a mere eighteen days, Egyptians overthrew the oppressive yoke of a thirty-year despot and dismembered Hosni Mubarak's corrupt National Democratic Party (NDP) .4 This is just the first step on a long path towards meaningful reform, without which Egypt's January 25 Revolution will be but a glimmer of light in Egypt's long history of authoritarianism. The fight for Egypt's future has now moved from the streets to the mechanisms and structures that promote self-governance, government transparency and accountability, and a society governed by the rule of law. …