By Bruce Ackerman


As violence escalates, Egypt’s military is trying to bridge a widening political gap by promising a rapid return to civilian rule. But its gesture of accommodation does not get to the heart of the problem: the presidential system, inherited from the Mubarak era, virtually guarantees a repetition of the tragic events of the past year. A democratic breakthrough requires a more fundamental constitutional redesign, in which the contending sides compete for power in a European-style parliamentary system.

If Egypt had made that switch in the interim Constitution adopted two years ago, or in the revisions that Mohamed Morsi, as president, rammed through last year, it could well have avoided the current upheaval and bloodshed in the first place.

The presidency is a winner-take-all office. This may be acceptable in countries like the United States, where well-organized parties contend for the prize. But it is a recipe for tyranny in places like Egypt, where Islamists have powerful organizational advantages in delivering the vote.

Because their opponents will have great difficulties uniting behind a single candidate, Islamists could probably parlay their strong minority support into another presidential victory. To prevent that result, it is predictable that the military will suppress the political efforts of the Muslim Brotherhood and similar groups — transforming the next election into a democratic farce. The next president would not only emerge with an illegitimate mandate. His victory would convert the Islamists into undying opponents of the regime.

Only a parliamentary system provides a realistic path to a more stable, inclusive future. Even if Islamist parties won a substantial share of the vote, they would not be able to monopolize power.

Consider the Brotherhood’s best-case scenario: Although millions of Egyptians took part in the street demonstrations that preceded President Morsi’s ouster, the Muslim Brotherhood could still win a quarter of the seats in the parliamentary elections, with the more orthodox Salafists gaining another 15 percent. In contrast, the non-Islamist forces are fractured into a number of different factions, ranging from Christian to social democratic. Although the Brotherhood might well emerge with more seats than any other single party, its non-Islamist opponents might nevertheless cobble together a governing coalition. Even if its opponents failed, the Brotherhood could not form a coalition either, unless it reached out to some secularists for support — especially since the Brotherhood could not count on the Salafists to always back it. Read more…

Bruce Ackerman is Sterling Professor of Law and Political Science at Yale University.

As published in www.nytimes.com on July 10, 2013.


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