This is the time to stay focused on what is important, not be sidetracked by emotional events that are easy to get excited by, but lead to dead ends, rather than the new Egypt we have all heard so much about
Egypt is not simply at one, but at multiple crossroads. One of the problems going forward is the limited experience its citizens have in taking independent action, assuming personal responsibility, working together for a common goal and sharing leadership. On the other hand, there is no going back to the way things were.
The nation has many things to do. Dramatically improve the educational system across all age ranges - this must be a top priority. The nation has to take action on reducing the illiteracy rate and has to ensure that its citizens are fed, housed and provided with the healthcare they need. It cannot do this alone and, to the nation’s credit it has discouraged offers of charity, but it has not yet called for active involvement from all sectors of the citizenry, from civil society and business to play active roles in solving the nation’s problems. This is the time for government, civil society and business to come together and work together to solve the nation’s ills in a collective fashion, giving citizens shared ownership in the process, making them partners in finding solutions and jointly building the new Egypt.
The most effective way to do this is through the democratic process, based on a human rightsOne of the problems going forward is the limited experience its [Egypt's] citizens have in taking independent action, assuming personal responsibility, working together for a common goal and sharing leadership. On the other hand, there is no going back to the way things were framework with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the foundation of that policy. By utilizing this foundation and making it part of everyday life, it makes all Egyptians equal around the table. It brings people together with common set of rules and provides a complimentary moral framework to Islam and Christianity, without challenging the role religion plays in people’s lives and in society.
Two efforts in Egypt are working to make this concept a reality on the streets of Egypt, the Human Rights Corps of Egypt, recently formed in Cairo has a goal of ensuring that every woman, man, youth and child knows, owns and can act upon their human rights as a part of everyday life. This is not about violations, but the understanding that human rights is the blueprint on how we get along with one another in society, at home, in the workplace and in government. Human Rights is about how we treat others and how they treat us, with each of us being equal under the law, with dignity and without prejudice. In Alexandria there are efforts underway to make it the first Human Rights City in the MENA world, extending the goals and objectives of the Corps into the very lives of all citizens and residents of Alexandria and the surrounding area. This process is about the realization and fulfillment of human rights goals and objectives, bringing us all closer to the world we have dreamed of for our children and grandchildren.
The danger lurks in how easy it is to distract the public from the monumental tasks in achieving these goals, redirecting their focus to things outside their control and putting greater power in the hands of the current military leadership. This has been clearly demonstrated by SCAF and its control of the media in taking a bad situation on the border with Israel and Gaza and making it into an international crisis. This takes pressure off of SCAF and redirects the public’s attention from domestic issues that are essential, where as the current fracas is being blown-up well beyond its actual impact on the daily lives of Egyptians.
A much more serious issue facing the Egyptian people is the lack of transparency at the Mubarak trial. This is the exercise in justice the nation needs, a way to move from the thirst for revenge to finding success in the judicial process, learning about the past in a meaningful way so as not to repeat it and to explore the next steps in building a sound and stable democracy. The information potentially gleaned from an open and fair trial, one that explores the Mubarak tenure, as President and Vice-president, will give Egyptians their first real look at how the nation evolved to a point where people took to the streets in outright rebellion. This is worth fighting over and demanding.
Of vital importance is public input into the constitutional process. How can those designated and or elected to draw up a constitution do so without any direct input from the people who will ultimately have to accept it? This is the time for government, civil society and business to come together and work together to solve the nation’s ills in a collective fashion, giving citizens shared ownership in the process, making them partners in finding solutions and jointly building the new Egypt. With over 40% of the population illiterate, it will be very difficult to get all to understand the language and its complexity before a vote for approval will be called for. It is therefore essential that there is a public discussion of what this document needs to include, its vision and mission.
With social media, public forums, outreach of civil society, potentially millions of Egyptians could participate in preliminary discussions on this monumental process and take ownership of a final document that represents the best intentions of the Egyptian people.
The learning and integration of human rights into the justice system, the constitution and the legal apparatus of the state, business and civil society is something each and every Egyptian can work towards. By knowing and claiming their human rights and accepting the personal responsibility that goes along with it, the social contract and the society will gain strength and people’s desire for a successful outcome will be increased dramatically.
This is the time to stay focused on what is important, not be sidetracked by emotional events that are easy to get excited by, but lead to dead ends, rather than the new Egypt we have all heard so much about. Egypt’s promise is one that demonstrates to the world that it is still possible for a people to rid themselves of a dictator, join together and build a fair and just society from the ground up, built on a human rights foundation where all people are created equal, treated equal and both society and government are designed to enhance the quality of life of all. The world is on your side and holding its breath for your success.
Robert Kesten is the Executive Director of The Peoples Movement for Human Rights Learning (PDHRE)