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Title: Egypt and the Caux Round Table Principles for Government
Date: 13-Feb-2011
Category: Opinion Essays
Description: The stunning resignation of Hosni Mubarak in Cairo raises more questions than it has solved. The end of autocratic regimes is rarely elegant as nothing has been prepared for an orderly transition to some better system of rule. Basic principles of constitutionalism have little traction. Emotions and resentments are running high. Fear of retribution and desire to hold on to privileges energizes supporters of the fallen regime and power everywhere - from street thugs to ministries - is up for grabs.

The stunning resignation of Hosni Mubarak in Cairo raises more questions than it has solved. The end of autocratic regimes is rarely elegant as nothing has been prepared for an orderly transition to some better system of rule. Basic principles of constitutionalism have little traction. Emotions and resentments are running high. Fear of retribution and desire to hold on to privileges energizes supporters of the fallen regime and power everywhere - from street thugs to ministries - is up for grabs.

Now, its military has command of Egypt’s administrative machinery, but unless there is an immediate and pervasive commitment to its fundamental legitimacy among a significant part of the people, the generals can only govern temporarily or through renewed authoritarian repression of opinion. Demands for wide-reaching changes will not disappear out of simple gratitude for the removal of Mubarak.

When dictators fall from power, very little is certain. Politics becomes Hobbesian - a war of all against all - where fear of the future, distrust, un-channeled anger, naïve aspirations, ambitions, myopias, delusions of grandeur, become default positions for many activists and protection of family and self becomes the default position for all (The Chinese thinker Mo Zi would say that true human nature is then erupting from past conformity to authority, requiring the re-installation of a new authority to obtain peace, order and prosperity).

The Caux Round Table Principles for Government do provide sage guidance and sound principles for the achievement of a just order of governance after the collapse of authoritarian regimes. The core CRT Principle, derived from all religious traditions, is that public office is a public trust; it is public service, not personal exploitation.

If Mubarak had been more faithful to this injunction, his regime would have been more tolerable and he would have not ended his rule in disgrace and repudiation. A trustee of power understands that the office is more important than the person and that fiduciary powers are only held for a limited time, not in perpetuity.

Starting with this ethical premise on the purpose behind public authority, the CRT advocates 8 subsidiary principles:

1. Discourse ethics should guide application of public power.
2. The Civic Order shall serve all those who accept the responsibilities of citizenship.
3. Public Servants shall refrain from abuse of office, corruption and shall demonstrate high levels of personal integrity.
4. Security of persons, individual liberty and ownership of property are the foundation for individual justice.
5. Justice shall be provided.
6. General welfare contemplates improving the well-being of individual citizens.
7. Transparency of government ensures accountability.
8. Global cooperation advances national welfare.

For now, we suggest, the most important CRT principle for the Egyptian authorities is the first one: use of discourse ethics. Decisions as to the future powers of government, its obligations to engage the people, political activists and civil society and the basis of its authority - secular or religious - need to be made through discourse and not resort to violence and oppression of contrary opinion.

Many outside of Egypt, sensitive to the charge that civilizations do clash, fear a political takeover of Egypt by Islamic fundamentalists, perhaps through the Muslim Brotherhood.

Collapses of authoritarian regimes in dramatic moments of popular protest - the French Bourbons, the Russian Romanoffs, the Iranian Pahlavis, Ngo Dinh Diem, Batista - have not always brought about just constitutional orders respectful of democratic norms.

Democratic developments, of course, can happen after civil societies turn against repressive elites or one-party regimes, as they did in South Korea, Taiwan, Philippines, Indonesia, South Africa, Poland, Romania, Serbia and Ukraine.

As Egypt is a Muslim country, however, its people will be exposed to Islamic terms of reference in shaping their political actions. What might those terms be? Will they create emotional and popular support for democracy or for some more repressive form of government?

What guidance does Qur’an itself, in fact, provide for governance?

Our work at the Caux Round Table over the past several years with Muslim scholars of learning and integrity points to the fundamental harmony between Qur’anic guidance for good governance and the CRT Principles for Government.

The most superficial reading of Qur’an will reveal that Qur’anic guidance on governance has no place for tyranny, for unjust abuse of political power, for corruption, for dishonesty or for perversion of truth in the seeking of legal justice.

Nor does Qur’an contemplate a fundamentalist state of literalist totalitarian control.

We read Qur’an to recommend a fundamental constitutionalism. This, then, should be the goal of the Egyptian people now - a constitutional regime of checks and balances, of order and flexibility.

Where do we find such guidance in Qur’an?

First, we take very seriously the revelation that God created humans to serve as Khalifa - as stewards and agents of divine aspirations. Our ministry as individuals - both men and women, as politicians, as civil servants, as police, as prime ministers, as teachers and professors, as business owners, managers, lawyers, accountants or in any position of power or authority - is not to serve ourselves narrowly and selfishly, but to serve God’s creation and make it more fruitful and just.


Government and all those who work for government are trustees; their powers are to be used wisely for the common good. Corruption and abuse of power are not permitted. Therefore, institutions of government must act to prevent corruption of all kinds and abuse of power of all kinds. There needs to be law, honest investigations of abuse, free speech to prevent the secrecy which encourages wrongdoing, upright judges and police with integrity who seek the truth about criminal behavior.

There also needs to be open debate on policies and practices as a means to keep government faithful to its task of serving civil society.

Second, we find the Qur’anic injunction to be faithful to our trusts - amanah - confirmation of our duties of stewardship. Power, intelligence, wealth and skills - all practical tools and abilities that can affect the future of the world - are given to us not as our private property for selfish exploitation, but as trusts to be used responsibly. As trustees, we are subject to duties of loyalty to ends higher than our own pleasures and of due care to act wisely.

Third, we connect the Qur’anic guidance to use shura in our decision-making - for decisions both personal and public - with the duty to be a trustee and to use due care in the exercise of our powers. None of us are infallible; all of us are prone to pride, bias, intolerance, anger, negligence, short-sightedness and many other shortcomings. We can make better decisions if we go beyond the urgings of our own hearts and passions and the limitations of our own education and mental abilities. With consultations, by opening our minds to the thinking and perceptions of others, we both serve at a higher level of integrity and we build institutions not dependent on any one person, party, sect or ideology.

With appropriate checks and balances in place and opportunities so made available for many to serve out their khalifa-ships, a just society is able to provide for the flourishing of the many talents and abilities which God has seen fit to give the world in all the people born into its possibilities and conundrums.

If the Egyptians consolidate their revolution against dictatorship and its abuses of political, economic and social power with (1) institutions and practices promoting the khalifa-ship of citizens and those in public office, (2) the use of power as trustees, and (3) checks and balances to enhance human flourishing, Egypt will be both Qur’anic and justly governed."



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