Lessons from Egypt

Monday, 14 February 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

In Egypt victory has been declared for the people. As the president resigned and the reins of power was handed over to the military the entire world watches to see whether the remarkable series of events will end with the full restoration of reforms and democracy in the most populous nation in the Arab world.

The challenges are many and already loopholes have started to appear.

Thousands of people who had flocked to Tahrir Square are refusing to vacate insisting that they will remain until the full reforms are implemented. Others are wary of the fact that the military and Cabinet that remain in power have not given a timeline for elections and the installment of a democratically elected government.

Yet the world is sharing the overwhelming feeling of change fostered by the people. At the height of the demonstrations, as many as a quarter of a million people protested — for the most part peacefully — demanding the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak. This demonstration of people power against corruption, tyranny and suppression that had subjugated and virtually snuffed out any sense of civic duty awakened the idealism of an entire globe and they were cheered on by liberals everywhere.

They came for freedom, for justice, for honour and for the truth. For the chance to build a better world for their children and the chance to redeem wrongs and lapses of judgment that had been allowed to go unquestioned too long. Perhaps they came for nothing more than to prove that they were not cowards. Their task remains to build a better nation.

There are strong resemblances between Egypt and Sri Lanka. If our country does not pay attention to democracy, human rights, transparency, accountability and good governance its potential will be short lived. As a people we have to realise that speaking out is important. Addressing wrongs — even if it means undermining short term economic growth — is important. Inclusive economic development, as was proved in the case of Egypt must run hand in hand with the principles of democracy or the result with be — change.

Repression will not answer every point of contention. The people must be allowed to know what is happening and have the right to be heard. Rulers should interact with them and understand their problems and respond with empathy. The high cost of living was one that contributed to triggering the crisis in Egypt and this clearly shows the importance of equitable development.

Suppressive laws, a well teethed military and brainwashing will only keep the people tethered for a limited period of time. Democracy and good governance is not only necessary but essential, as Egypt has shown the world. Even with the most powerful backing the ruler gets, when the end comes it is still the common man on the street who decides.

Selfish decisions made with the intention of cornering power are short lived. Unfortunately when the transformation process happens it does so by damaging the entire country as well. The rebuilding process for Egypt is a long one and the country’s problems are far from over. Yet a start has been made, and for that many can be grateful. For a country such as Sri Lanka that has already suffered the ravages of war the price of another beginning would be too great. Development is not limited to shiny roads and large harbours. It must encompass civil liberties, human rights, free media and democracy in a pure form.

This is the dual challenge before Sri Lanka. Can we ensure that her future does not have the upheavals seen in Egypt?