How to build and sustain a broad-based consensus in the new Egypt

Egypt must lean towards producing a government that has the broad-based support of all the different groups.

Muslim brotherhood protesters 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Muslim brotherhood protesters 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Wherever one may be on the loaded question of whether or not an actual coup has taken place, no one can deny that Egypt’s most recent experiment with democracy has (thus far) been a spectacular failure.  Although millions may have rejoiced at the recent transition to quasi-military rule, the understandable outrage that is ominously surging in many quarters of Egyptian society (and not just from the Muslim Brotherhood) make the previously unthinkable worst case scenario that much more of a real possibility.  Egypt could potentially descend into an intractable civil war, becoming an essentially failed state like Syria which would, in turn, draw other nations and international players into the fray.  A somewhat marginally better yet still tragically disappointing alternative is that a relatively benevolent military dictatorship could solidify its grip on power which would offer some measure of temporary stability but stifle democratic ideals and economic growth for years or even decades to come.     Still, we shouldn’t give up on the current tenuous political process, such as it is, just yet. The army has already put out a “Roadmap” to civilian rule which includes legislative elections within 7 months.  But haven’t we been down this circular path already?  Simply stacking up the votes and then bequeathing power to whoever has the biggest pile will, once again, result in failure.  Real democracy is about giving voice to the people while also recognizing that “the people” is a dynamic molecular construct so much more complex than the simple, atomized sum of the individuals.  Clearly, much stronger politically inclusive measures are needed in order for this or, indeed, any inceptive democracy to thrive.   
The daunting challenge here and now is to quickly get the political system back up and running and to do so in such a way that it:
1.)    Follows at least a semblance of accepted democratic protocols.2.)    Takes significant steps to mollify the admittedly aggrieved Muslim Brotherhood in a way that does not include returning Mohamed Morsi to the presidency since that option would be totally unacceptable to millions of other Egyptians.3.)      Insures that before and even after the election, Egypt will have a government that adequately reflects the various diverse groups.
The quickest way to do that here and now may be to immediately re-instate the Shura Council, which is Egypt’s upper house of parliament. The Shura Council is composed of 264 members, 88 of whom are appointed by the President. If the newly appointed President Adly Mansour uses all of those 88 appointments to include the secular activists, the Coptic Christians, and even some of the old guard Mubarak loyalists, that will go a long way in assuring everyone that they will have a place at the table. The Muslim brotherhood could be confident in the face-saving fact that they already hold a majority of the elected seats.         
It’s a happy coincidence that the earlier Constituent Assembly had already given the Shura Council the power to issue legislation until a new lower house of parliament is elected.  It should be tacitly understood, however, that their first (and for now-only) order of business will be in dealing with the growing economic crises. This will help establish the legitimacy and competency of the new broad-based government while addressing the more immediate chronic food shortages and power outages that have contributed to the unrest. 
The other major bone of contention is whether to amend the present constitution or to write a new one.  That is a logistical issue that can be more peacefully resolved later once everyone is at the table.  One thing is certain though, whether Egypt writes a new constitution or drastically amends the obviously flawed one that exists now, it must lean towards producing a government that has the broad-based support of all the different groups. 
In any successful democracy, the need for consensus must be woven directly into the fabric of the political system rather than naively relying on the magnanimity of the ruling political class to do so. The surest way to do that going forward is by re-designing the representative boundaries of the Shura Council so that it will reflect all parts of Egyptian society. The Council’s legislative districts need to be redrawn so that they are loosely correlated with religious, ethnic, sectarian and even class demographics-regardless of population or geographic size. This will dovetail neatly with the current structural makeup of the General Assembly which can continue to have its representative boundaries based solely on individual numbers. In this way, Egypt can ensure that the individuals as well as the various groups will be properly represented now and still pivot easily away from that paradigm later as it eventually assumes a more cosmopolitan identity.   
The Shura Council also needs to be substantially empowered so that it functions more like an actual senate that is able to comfortably wield an appropriate amount of executive oversight rather than simply functioning as the presidential rubber stamp that it has traditionally been.
The situation may seem bleak but Egypt can still pull this situation back from the brink.  It can even go on to reclaim a regional leadership role by allowing their revolution to forge a brand new cultural dynamic that appeals to a quickly evolving, more modern pan-Arabic identity. Allowing a more inclusive and ascendant Shura Council to become the medium through which those first steps can occur is a good start.                                                                     Brian Fox is a freelance writer living in Brookline, Massachusetts, USA.