Fila Sophia

applied philosophy, deep democracy, sustainability / by A.R.Teleb

Remembering Mubarak: Tahrir, Zuccotti, & Future Democracy

Tahrir Square during 8 February 2011

Tahrir Square, 8 February 2011 (Photo: Wikipedia)

Today marks the two-year anniversary of Hosni Mubarak’s departure. At the end of 2011, Time’s Person of the Year was “The Protester,” and the issue was wrapped in Tahrir Square. Ironically, the following year (2012) the honor went to freshly-elected President Mohamed Morsi. In 2013, will “The Protester” win again?

A Startling Revolution

Seemingly out of nowhere, perhaps awakened by their Tunisian neighbors, Egyptians stormed the streets of Cairo in stupefying numbers to occupy “Liberation Square.” On February 11, 2011, less than three weeks later, Mubarak’s 30-year dictatorship ended in equally amazing fashion.

The same Egyptians no doubt inspired Occupy Wall Street and other “Occupy” movements, from London to Oakland to Sydney. After two years of nearly constant protests, despite concessions from one regime and the next, the women and men shedding their blood on the streets of Egypt are making a statement. Rejecting new faces from old and new parties–even the squishy teddy-bear figure of Mohammed Morsi–they are saying, “We will not be governed!”

In the context of recent political and social events in both global “South” and “North,” together with changes in social technology, the uncompromising Egyptian protestor personifies the 21st-Century’s attitude towards politics. The ongoing Revolution has meant more suffering for millions, but Egypt’s pain may be “The Future’s” gain.

In North and South alike as faith in electoral democracy shrinks, an ancient idea, direct democracy, is rekindled. It is seen as a way to promote representativeness of deliberative bodies while curbing corruption or the influence of special interests. From Egypt to Germany to Iceland to the UK and the US, ordinary people have lost trust in professional politicians and are demanding participation in decisions, not specific policy changes.

In the South

Iraq has shown Egyptians (and the world) not only that European republicanism (voting for a select group to rule over others) will not easily take root in a different soil, but also an old wisdom that republicanism is not easily compatible with equality or minority rights. Tunisians are not satisfied with winner-takes-all republicanism, while Bahrainies are demanding minority participation, not mere protection, and Libyans continue to struggle under 19th-century European ideas about government.

Meanwhile the Syrian opposition, in the face of extreme atrocities, adamantly refuses regime concession short of self-governance. It has rebuffed the advice of both European Union and United States to compromise with the regime, and continues to reject the old way of doing things.

In the North

People in well-off, stable countries are also rejecting rule by an elite.
The Occupy Movement, was invited to join the political mainstream or make “realistic” demands. The Democratic Party sought its favor, while New York judges protected it for a long time from an otherwise omnipotent police force. Oakland’s mayor held police away from Occupy Oakland for weeks. But in New York, Oakland, London, “Occupiers” declined compromise.
In Germany, the Pirate Party has run a platform at first derided as the idealism of University youth or the luxury of European long vacations, but now seems to have some staying power. Though not quite influential, the Party remains relevant with its platform based entirely on the concept of participatory democracy through technology, and it has inspired pirate parties elsewhere.

In October, voters in Iceland overwhelmingly approved (with a 67% super=majority) a new constitution drafted by 25 randomly selected citizens. These 25 non-politicians deliberated amongst themselves with input from the general public through social media (Facebook and Twitter). Once the language is finalized by Parliament, voters at large will settle the Constitutional Referendum this Spring. This constitution does not establish direct democracy by any means, but it makes it easier to put referenda on the ballot.

Starting in Porto Alegre over a decade ago, and now in a slowly growing number of cities and some Chicago and New York City districts, budgets are being negotiated by “Citizen Juries.” The justification for this are studies that indicate people set better priorities and accept the consequences of harder choices when they themselves deliberate about issues they face.

A new United Kingdom party, “Ordinary People” would take this to another level, calls for a complete overhaul of the British political system to be replaced by a “demarchy,” a democracy based entirely on (different forms of) selection by lot (sortition) in each branch of government. It would replace Parliament with randomly selected assemblies rotated every three months. It would replace the Prime Minister, with a collective Executive Council selected from Ministers. This bold idea is an old one, ultimately derived from ancient Athens.

The leader of a democratic party in Belgium, recently made a startling video announcement: He called for the dissolution of all political parties (including his own) and the institution of a Citizen Parliament selected by lot!

According to American philosopher of law Roscoe Pound, it is during periods of major change that legal and political culture open up to philosophy and to re-evaluating their ideals. That could be happening, not only in countries in revolution, but also in growing currents in Germany, Iceland, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Technology Culture Mind

One of the principles of Occupy Wall Street was free access to technology, information, and culture. In January, 2012, Congress attempted to authorize the FCC to shut down Internet service providers not adequately protecting copyrighted materials, under two bills, SOPA and PIPA. The overwhelming response of “net-citizens” was, “We will not be governed.” The strong outcry killed both bills, and a similar measure was defeated in Europe the following summer.

The popularity of Aaron Swartz and outrage at his treatment by Federal prosecutors further echoed the sentiment, that access to knowledge, information, and technology is now viewed as a right rather than a privilege.

In a new book, “The Future,” heavily borrowing from the ideas of Tom Atlee, Al Gore argues that technology and interconnectedness are changing how we live and think–perhaps what it means to be human. He references a new kind of collective intelligence, GlobalMind, equivalent to Atlee’s concept of co-intelligence.

Reform in the US

In the United States, even supporters of republican government are re-evaluating the electoral system, in favor of proportional methods, such as Instant Runoff Voting (Choice Voting). The shift is justified on representativeness and the desirability of diversity. California now uses “Choice Voting” in several counties, including the cities of Oakland, Berkley, and San Francisco. An significant non-profit in Washington, D.C., called Fair Vote, has been promoting the use of Choice Vote and a Presidential National Popular Vote, and now has affiliates in California and Minnesota.

“Selection by vote befits aristocracy, by lot befits democracy.”
Aristotle (Politics)

Some States have begun experimenting with participatory democracy by lot, in the form of citizen conventions or citizen juries. In the summer of 2011, a “Deliberative Opinion Poll” was held in California with a randomly selected large group (400 people) to deliberate, alternately in plenary and small groups, on proposed referendums over a weekend. Its top six proposals were put on the CA ballot.

Also starting in 2011, a non-partisan group in Oregon began sponsoring Citizens’ Initiative Review Juries of 24 randomly selected voters who spend five days deliberating every initiative/referendum on the ballot in time to report their findings in the Voters’ Handbook. “Healthy Democracy” plans to continue the experiment.

Americans learned at the beginning of the 20th Century that courts are not the proper avenue of change. In July of 2012, testifying before a Congressional committee, American law professor Lawrence Lessig proposed Single Issue Citizen Conventions to make suggestions on settling a recent Supreme Court Constitutional controversy (Citizens United.) This could be easily extended to other judicial and legislative uses.

A recent “Wired” magazine article discussed two possible implementations of sortition, one by a mathematician another by a political scientists. One would turn elections over to a group of voters selected by lot, the other (James Fishkin behind the Deliberative Opinion Poll and the Center for Deliberative Democracy) would institute Citizen Deliberative Councils.

American academe has begun to turn in a more inclusive direction in Political Science, where mistrust of the “everyman” has long been the rule. Political philosopher Alex Guerrero makes a practical and moral argument for “Lottocracy” in an up-coming book. Political theorist Helene Landemore believes “cognitive diversity” is the ultimate justification for democracy, and that selection by lot is its best guarantee. Another political scientist re-evaluates Machiavelli as a proponent of a democratic check on “the prince,” through the use of lot.

Recent grassroots movements seem to be moving in these directions. The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street agree on more than American political parties are willing to admit. They both seek a moderate government, ruled by law (rather than special interests), inclusive of their voices.

An Idea for Egypt

In Egypt, application of such ideas could have saved the time and money wasted on elections, while avoiding factionalism. The impasse between the Muslim Brotherhood and the National Salvation Front (Egyptian opposition) that started several months ago could have been avoided with a simple structural reform, that would have both gratified Egyptians’ thirst for participation and established a government inclusive of minority voices.

Indeed the untiring Egyptian protester could be voicing the 21st Century’s Zeitgeist

“We can do it ourselves; we can do it better!”

[Disclaimer: This expresses my own “sense of the times.” I make no claim to special knowledge of events in Egypt and the Middle East, or what many are enduring on a daily basis.]

5 comments on “Remembering Mubarak: Tahrir, Zuccotti, & Future Democracy

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