Skip to main content

A new Egypt must learn political compromise

By Jane Harman, Special to CNN
November 29, 2012 -- Updated 1409 GMT (2209 HKT)
Egyptian protesters shout slogans against President Mohammed Morsy's decree during a demonstration in Tahrir Square.
Egyptian protesters shout slogans against President Mohammed Morsy's decree during a demonstration in Tahrir Square.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Jane Harman: Egypt's opposition, governing party planned dueling million-man marches
  • She says this Egyptian model of neither working in the system nor compromising isn't useful
  • She says Morsy court takeover, fractious constitutional process show poor grasp of politics
  • Harman: Constitution must respect separation of powers; secularists must get in process

Editor's note: Jane Harman is director, president and CEO of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. She was a nine-term congresswoman from California and the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee from 2002-2006.

(CNN) -- I see your million-man march and raise you another million. That's the game the Muslim Brotherhood and opposition parties were playing in Egypt this week.

After President Mohammed Morsy granted himself sweeping new temporary emergency powers, his opponents vowed to send a million protestors to the streets yesterday. Morsy's supporters responded by announcing their own equally massive gathering.

Jane Harman
Jane Harman

Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed, and a deal was struck between Morsy and Egypt's judges, who had threatened a countrywide strike. But too often, the "winner-takes-all" Mubarak model persists in Egyptian politics. Instead of engaging or working within the system, and compromising, opposition forces protest in Tahrir Square or boycott. While these tactics won a revolution, they will not build a democracy.

Morsy's government won worldwide acclaim last week when it achieved two enormously impressive victories (albeit with no input from the so-called secular liberal parties): a ceasefire in Gaza and a commitment of $4.8 billion from the International Monetary Fund, with billions from the European Union to follow.

Become a fan of CNNOpinion
Stay up to date on the latest opinion, analysis and conversations through social media. Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion and follow us @CNNOpinion on Twitter. We welcome your ideas and comments.



News: Fresh clashes in Cairo over Morsy decree

But a day later, claiming that the work product of the country's 100-member Constitutional Assembly could be jeopardized, Morsy suspended the ability of the independent court system to review or block the draft constitution, which is due to be released in less than two weeks. A plebiscite is to follow in 60 days and then an election of the new parliament (the old one was declared invalid by the now-neutered court system).

What to make of all this? It's the politics, stupid, or the absence of capacity on both sides to entertain opposing views and forge compromise. (Steven Spielberg's "Lincoln" may be the most relevant and compelling how-to guide this season.)

Egyptian government drafting constitution
Egypt's crisis over within 15 days?
Sign of the times in Egypt
Watch: On the ground in Tahrir Square

Last week, during my third trip to Egypt this year, I suggested to the secretary general and a leading member of the Constitutional Assembly that they reach out to a group, nominally led by former Arab League director and former presidential candidate Amr Moussa, who is now boycotting the process. I made the same suggestion to top aides to Morsy. They are suspicious that Moussa has political motives. But, hey, of course he does! As do they.

Opinion: Don't blame Muslim Brotherhood for Morsy power grab

To be legitimate, Egypt's new constitution will need to respect the separation of powers (including an independent judiciary) and accommodate political differences in a document that passes the international smell test. It cannot move women back to the Stone Age, and it must embrace pluralism and tolerance for all religions.

On the other side, liberals and human rights advocates want to play odds that this government will overreach and fail. Well, it might. But that's no guarantee they'll come next, especially if they don't bring good political skills with them. And their outside game shortchanges the Egyptian people, whose need for food, jobs, fairness and respect are now.

News: Morsy's decrees could be lifted in as little as two weeks

The secular liberals need to get in the game, not just into Tahrir Square. If they do, they can insist on amendments to the constitutional draft that will incorporate their own vision for the future of Egypt.

More million-man (and woman) marches aren't enough.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Jane Harman.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
October 28, 2014 -- Updated 1237 GMT (2037 HKT)
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1803 GMT (0203 HKT)
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1145 GMT (1945 HKT)
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 1904 GMT (0304 HKT)
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 0032 GMT (0832 HKT)
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
October 27, 2014 -- Updated 1119 GMT (1919 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1212 GMT (2012 HKT)
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
October 22, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1619 GMT (0019 HKT)
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2235 GMT (0635 HKT)
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1630 GMT (0030 HKT)
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1632 GMT (0032 HKT)
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
October 26, 2014 -- Updated 0148 GMT (0948 HKT)
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2208 GMT (0608 HKT)
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
October 24, 2014 -- Updated 1621 GMT (0021 HKT)
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 2006 GMT (0406 HKT)
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
October 23, 2014 -- Updated 1414 GMT (2214 HKT)
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1135 GMT (1935 HKT)
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
October 21, 2014 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT