Saturday, February 19, 2011

Democracy is just a word... Why Egypt should have a pharaoh again

[Update: corrected the misspelling of pharao into pharaoh]

(disclaimer: read this post at your own leisure and don't forget to go to Wikipedia or buy a book or go to school to gain the proper details of what I'm about to convey)

I guess the title of this post is not the most politically correct, but than again what is these days?

Anyhow, to start of; Democracy really is just a word. It more or less means that a country is ruled by the people. Fortunately, those that invented 'democracy' where smart enough to realize that most people are not smart enough to rule a country. Therefore, democracies are ruled by a representation of the people that are being ruled. In the end, the majority (about 100%) of the people are ruled by a minority. Looks familiar? Well it should because this is pretty much everywhere. Every community that has some governance this is the case. In a democracy, the minority that is ruling is considered by the majority to be a proper representation and the remaining people accept this and agree to follow suite with the majority.

Kinda boring, I know. The issue is that there are many models for democracies and all have their benefits and drawbacks. I tend to think that the United States of America is a democracy (although one might also consider it a special kind of dictatorship). I also tend to think that the Netherlands are a democracy. Belgium is definitely a democracy, although it also shows that a democracy has its flaws. The USA is a republic (they have a president) and the Netherlands are a monarchy (they have a queen). Where the president of the USA has real power, absolute power one might think (hence the 'special kind of dictatorship) because the president can veto pretty much every new law that the people by means of the Senate and the Congress come up with. But when the president does this too often, there won't be a re-election. In effect, the president of the USA is sort of an elected dictator. The Dutch queen has no real power, no direct influence on governing the country. The queen merely ensures that the government is handling matters according to the law as it is written. She in fact is not allowed to even hint about her political interests. Everything she says and does in public is reviewed by the Dutch prime minister because the prime minister is responsible for what she says and does in public. One could say that she's the only person in the Netherlands that will be bleeped on TV when she uses bad language (she's allowed to talk about sex using the raunchiest terminology, but she's not allowed to say what she thinks about the right to vote for women).

So where is all this coming from? Well, the Egyptians are longing for a democracy. They want Egypt to be a democracy. The same tune is now played in pretty much the whole of the Arab world. A lot of blood is spilled because of this longing and a lot of people are teaming up to realize this wish. It's like asking for a drink in a cafe. Here's the analogy: Like I said, democracy is just a word, it comes in many flavors, many models. All of them have their goods and their wrongs. It also largely depends on the culture of the people in the democracy to determine what kind of democracy is best suitable. In the USA the culture is more or less (yeah, flame me American for getting it all wrong) to choose your strong leader and then follow that leader. But the leader can only be a guide because Americans still want to be able to make their own decisions.
The Dutch culture is one of consensus. Every decision is one that is considered by all to be the right decision. Some like it more than others, but everybody agrees it's the right decision. Rules for everything for everybody agreed on by all.
I think that the Egyptians need to figure out what kind of democracy they want. Being aware that I know far too little about the Egyptian state and government, I would actually think that they had a democracy that was poorly implemented and really sucky executed. Although, in the end the majority did get it their way. Some 'strong' language was required though.

Hmmm, where is all this leading. That pharaoh is still in the title. Ah yes, here it comes; All of you, raise your hand when you know where on earth the Netherlands are. And no, it is not the capital of Denmark, nor a German province although in more than one occasion the Netherlands were part of a German reich. The Netherlands are actually a rather small country, one of the most dense populated countries in the world actually. And although the people are among the tallest in the world, if not the tallest and one of our politicians has a hair-do that can compete with Don King. I would say, Don King's hair-do was better groomed. I'm balding so I know nothing about hair-do's.
The Netherlands are considered a small and more importantly a cute country. The Dutch queen is a major reason why the rest of the world considers the Netherlands to be a cute country. Truth is that without the queen, it wouldn't even be half as cute. Being cute gives the Netherlands a massive advantage in international dealings. It's always underestimated and therefore always has the element of surprise at its side (read the Sun Tzu - Art of War on the importance of the element of surprise in any encounter between two parties). When Holland would not have a queen, it would be one of those small republics. Now it is that cute little country with a queen.
Egypt should have a pharaoh for the same reasons. I think it would be awesome for all Egyptians to have a pharaoh again. A head of state that is only there to ensure that the government is playing by the book, but he or she would be a pharaoh. Egypt would be that country with a king or queen, but not just any king or queen but a pharaoh. One that starts building pyramids in times where there is a lot of unemployment and it would mean people get a decent job. One that reminds all Egyptians and the rest of the world on a daily basis of the grand era of yesteryear and the fact that these times are back.
Egypt would be a country with a continuing history instead of a history that ended centuries ago. It would not be that country with a desert without too much oil and too many tourist corrupting the nations values and morals. It would be that country that has a pharaoh. Maybe one that has a drink with the Dutch queen on pharaoh day. I recommend April 30th as this is a huge success in the Netherlands.

Oh, there is another reason why the queen is such a smart move of the Dutch, she's in office since a long time (1980) and because she has no real power, she can't screw up. At least not big time, but she has seen a lot of the world, she has met many, many, many people. Different people from different countries, cultures, religions, etc. She's seen it all, and therefore she's extremely well equipped to support the Netherlands in forming a government every election again.
In a democracy, in the end, it is the bureaucracy that rules. It's the people in the administration, the clerks that are behind their desk government after government that have the real power. They know the processes and procedures. They know when to stall and how to stall and they know when to expedite and how to expedite. They also know because of their longtime experience what makes sense and what not, what works and what not. The queen is the same in the Netherlands when it comes to forming a new government after the majority of the people has decided what minority can rule them.

My apologies for the length of this post, and although I might have taken the topic here and there a bit light or loose on the details, it never has been my objective to offend anybody. And I really, really hope that the people in Egypt as well as those in the other countries that are now subject to protest marches and stand-offs with the current government understand that democracy is just a word. Like going into that cafe and ask for a drink, you might not get what you like. And even though you spend 30 years in the dessert without a drink, you still shouldn't drink water from the Red Sea.


Friday, February 18, 2011

One week after Mubarak's resignation


Since last Tuesday I'm back in Cairo after being gone for about 17 days. A lot has happened ever since, and I'm not talking about Mubarak leaving and all.
No, with the resignation of Mubarak and therefore the collective feeling of the Egyptians at least here in Cairo that a new era has started, the buzz in Cairo has gone. In case you follow me on Twitter (ThreeAxis) you know what I am talking about.

Like I said, I came back last Tuesday and while driving back to my apartment in Cairo (a 30 minute drive) I realized the following: There was no honking, or almost no honking. The traffic wasn't total chaos, people stayed in their lanes and gave way to each other. There was no swerving left and right to get around garbage on the streets. It almost felt as Ramadan (see my earlier post on Ramadan where I explained about the changes in traffic during Ramadan). Granted, Tuesday was a public holiday, the birth of the Prophet is celebrated on February 15th. And as things are, public holidays mean civilized traffic.

So what else had changed in these 17 odd days? Well, for one, most people are relieved. They're happy, but it feels more that they're relieved. Not so much that Mubarak is gone, or that a new era has started, but they seem to be relieved that the chaos of the stand-off between pro- and anti-Mubarakians is over. Curfew has been set to 00:00 - 06:00. The looting and related violence has more or less ended. There is structure again, and some sort of sense of security has returned. Military is to credit for this.
Now, do I sense the same? I guess so. The military is not that intimidating and definitely not that ubiquitous as one would think, but they are well respected and wherever you see them, they're there with tanks and big guns. And I have to say, whereas the policemen in the street quite often make you think that they've just left high school and barely had training, the military seems to be well prepared and well trained. Then again, Egypt has one of the largest armies in the world. The 5th largest army I've been told. So I guess that this is not to surprising.

Since Tuesday I'm back in town and currently my feeling about Cairo is that it is not the same as before. The jury is still out whether I like the new Cairo better than the old Cairo. Or more importantly whether I like the new chaos better than the old chaos. The old chaos was chaos in everyday life. Chaos as part of a culture, a tradition, something that the Caironians seemed to be proud of ("What do you think of traffic? You think you can drive in Cairo?"). The new chaos is chaos in terms of reinventing Egypt. A new country is born and it doesn't know yet how this should work. Chaos caused by a lack of future perspective.

For now, nobody knows what Egypt will be. Not in 5 years, not in 5 months, not in 5 weeks or days. But I have to give the Egyptians credit. Credit for still being those nice persons they were one month ago. Credit for being proud of Egypt and being Egyptian because to them it means that people like me (foreigners) enjoy their stay in their beloved country. Credit for the fact that there is hardly any FUD (Fear for the Unknown Danger) and instead focus on opportunities.

I don't want to make my posts too long, so I stick with this for now. But there're more ideas, thoughts, feelings and experiences related to Egypt, Cairo and the recent events that I want to put on the web (who puts anything on paper these days?). So expect more to come... soon(er than you're recently used to from me).