Is There a Charter 77-Type Movement Underneath the People Power Uprising in the Middle East?


Cool building

Alexander Smoltczyk of Spiegel International, writing a few days back, semi-nominates one:

The Library of Alexandria, the most famous of the ancient world, was burnt down when Julius Caesar captured the city in 48 BC. Standing in its place since 2002 is the "Bibliotheca Alexandrina," which faces the sea like a large tilted disk.

Over the years, the institution has hosted workshops and lectures on democracy, reforms and religion. In one room, there is a copy of Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses." In March 2004, Arab intellectuals and civil society institutions composed the "Alexandria Declaration" here, a sort of "Charter 77" for reform in the Arab world. While police stations were being burnt down and the court buildings and the governor's residence were stormed, students formed a protective chain in front of their library. They don't want to see another fire destroy their written treasures.

"It's a wonderful moment," says Ismail Serageldin, the library's director and one of Egypt's leading intellectuals, breaking the complete silence in his office. Serageldin holds 30 honorary degrees and a professorship at the "Collège de France," the Pantheon of intellectual life in France. Despite everything that's happening, Serageldin is still convinced this revolution will reach its goal.

"Victor Hugo once wrote: 'No one can resist an idea whose time has come,'" Serageldin says.

What is this Alexandria Declaration? A pan-Arab document produced by various intellectuals and religious leaders calling for broad democratization, free elections, term limits, nondiscrimination against women, and other liberalization across the Middle East. And like Czechoslovakia's revolutionary source code of Charter 77, the Alexandria Declaration asks its target countries to abide by the letter of the various international covenants and treaties they've signed. Some higlights from the document [PDF]:

As representatives of Arab civil society, when we talk of democratic systems, we mean, without ambiguity, genuine democracy. This may differ in form and shape from one country to another due to cultural and historical variations; but the essence of democracy remains the same. Democracy refers to a system where freedom is paramount value that ensures actual sovereignty of the people and government by the people through political pluralism, leading to transfer of power. Democracy is based on respect of all rights for all the people, including freedom of thought and expression, and the right to organize under the umbrella of effective political institutions, with an elected legislature, an independent judiciary, a government that is subject to both constitutional and public accountability, and political parties of different intellectual and ideological orientations.

This genuine democracy requires guaranteed freedom of expression in all its forms, topmost among which is freedom of the press, and audio-visual and electronic media. It calls for adopting free, regular, centralized and decentralized elections to guarantee transfer of power and the rule of the people. It also requires the highest possible level of decentralization that would allow greater self-expression by local communities, unleashing their creative potentials for culturally contributions to human development in all fields. This is closely linked to achieving the highest level of transparency in public life, to stamping out corruption within the framework of establishing good governance and support for human rights provided according to international agreements. The rights of women, children and minorities, the protection of the fundamental rights of those charged with criminal offences and the humane treatment of citizens are on top of the list. All this is in keeping with accepted practices in those societies that have preceded us on the road to democratic development.

Other specific demands include "Abolishing arrest or detention as a result of free expression in all Arab countries and releasing all prisoners who are not put on trial," "Freeing the press and media from all forms of governmental influences or hegemony," "Encouraging privatization programs, including in the banking sector," and a bunch of other interesting stuff.

Does it amount to a hill of beans, and will either the stated aims or the people behind them have a seat at the table when the region's new systems are created? I have no idea. But contra the Glenn Becks of the world, I am struck by how much the language of this marvelous 18-day revolt has been the language of positive and non-sectarian liberation, especially in the realm of expression, and it is sure better than not that there exists some intellectual framework for a kind of liberalization many in the West have assumed is impossible.

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  1. APD won’t hinder citizens who videotape cops

    Faced with complaints from a citizen watchdog group, Atlanta police will stop interfering with people who videotape officers performing their duties in public, an agreement reached with the city Thursday says.

    John Spink “Commanders have made it clear that Atlanta police officers in the field should not interfere with a citizen’s right to film them while they work in public areas,” said APD spokesman Carlos Campos.

    The settlement, which also calls for the city to pay $40,000 in damages, requires city council approval.

    The agreement resolves a complaint filed by Marlon Kautz and Copwatch of East Atlanta, a group that films police activity with cell phones and hand-held cameras. The group has volunteers who go out on patrols and begin videotaping police activity when they come across it.…..34521.html

    1. Awesome. And some of my co-workers are in awe at Egypt because people are demanding freedom. I’ll point to this and say “We even do that here from time to time.”

  2. It sure would be awesome if multiple countries in the region would liberalize.

  3. students formed a protective chain in front of their library

    But will they do the same for the data banks?

    1. If you notice, that picture is reversed. The pirate disk actually tilts to the left. “Piracy” will preserve the data.

  4. “…The highest possible level of decentralization that would allow greater self-expression by local communities, unleashing their creative potentials for culturally contributions…”

    Somehow, they can’t bring themselves to go one more step in their decentralization hopes: the individual and her or his self-expression and creative potential.

  5. I am struck by how much the language of this marvelous 18-day revolt has been the language of positive and non-sectarian liberation,

    From their lips to Allah’s ears.

  6. It looks like the contractor forgot to bring his level the day they built that thing.

    Yeah, they all say they want true democracy right up until it threatens to weaken their power over others or, heaven forbid, leads to their being voted out altogether. Color me cynical, with just a hint of chartreuse.

    1. When did the Leaning Tower of Pisa get moved to Egypt?

    2. Also, “fucking levels, how do they work?”

      1. It’s like the best building ever, al dude!

      2. I like the building.

        1. I like it too. But one thing looks odd to me in the photo. Does it look like the low side of the slope is below the sea level? I wonder what happens when waves splash over that wall?

          1. I was wondering that too. It looks like it is just an artificial lake, not connected to the sea.

          2. I assumed that – having been burnt in the past (quite literally), that that is their fire suppression system.

  7. Serageldin holds 30 honorary degrees and a professorship at the “Coll?ge de France,” the Pantheon of intellectual life in France.

    But we listen to him anyway, I guess.

  8. It is there to be had if they want it. But they are going to have to fight the radicals for it. Not everyone there is a Muslim Brotherhood nut. And it is the non nuts who will die in the war the Brotherhood wants to start against Isreal.

    1. Never bring tanks and missiles to a nuke fight.

      1. Yeah. Or even in a conventional war, the Isrealis would slaughter them. The Isreali combined arms and better leadership would wipe out the Epytians, espeically after the brotherhood purged the military of any threats to its power. It would just be insanity.

        1. Which is why it’s highly unlikely to happen.

          1. Which is why it’s highly unlikely to happen.

            Somebody snuck an “un” in there.

            I could easily see the MB coordinating a two-front attack on Israel with their buddies in Lebanon.

            1. I relish the opportunity to see Israel, now under competent leadership, mop the floor with both.

  9. “A call to all well-educated Egyptians around the world. Come back ASAP to build our nation.”
    I hope it happens; they are needed

  10. Is “students” the opposite of “-tucky,” or of “-issippi?”

    I need to know this so I can get libertarians on board with the military coup that heralds my totalitarian religious state.

  11. I’ve been out of the loop for awhile. Vacation time for me and the wives. No wi-fi in Al-Baida. Brutal! So. What’s new?

  12. Obama is on AlJazeera now talking about the power of non-violent protest.

    Except, of course, when the Tea Party movement resorts to non-violent protest. Then it is racist/homophobic/antigovernment terrorism.

    1. That goes without saying.

    2. Please link me to all of the Tea Party events that were busted up by the government.

      A list of Tea party leaders in jail or under house arrest would go nicely with that.

      IOW, get stuffed. People saying bad things about you. your motives or your political views is hardly oppression.

      You want to slam Obama about this, point out the non-violent Iran presidential election protests did not have a happy ending.

  13. Fucking Martial Law; how does it work?

  14. Absolutely! The Muslim Brotherhood is a secular organization like the Salvation Army or sumping.

    With Egypt falling under the Iranian/Muslim Brotherhood type orbit, this must be sweet dreams to you Ernst Rh?m wannabes as you think you’ll get to see the zionist entity.

    You won’t see the end of Israel and the repitition of the holocaust that you Libertarian creatures of the night so dearly wish for.

    Instead, the Jewish state and people will win even with all your evil heroes arrayed against it and you’re the ones who will be lying the dust!

    Am Yisrael Chai and Od Kahane Chai (Rabbi Kahane lives)! Your anti-Semitic smugness will be your undoing!

    The Jewish Defense Marching song

    “There’s no need to fear. Underzog is here!”

    1. Hey Underschmuck, do you masturbate furiously to the thought of Israel, or really furiously to the thought of Israel? I don’t actually care, but I have certain morbid curiosities regarding racists such as yourself.

      1. Epileptic!

        I found another song for you: Od Kahane Chai song

        “There’s no need to fear. Underzog is here.”

    2. With Egypt falling under the Iranian/Muslim Brotherhood type orbit, this must be sweet dreams to you Ernst Rh?m wannabes as you think you’ll get to see the zionist entity.

      I’ll readily admit that I was really worried about what would happen in the initial days. But the good news is that it looks perfectly clear now that the Egyptian army, bless their hearts, has no intention of allowing the primitive, uneducated animals to take over their country and flush more than thirty years of progress down the toilet, and thankfully the army can crush the psychos like bugs. I’m not too worried about the nightmare scenario coming to pass any more.

    3. Since when does being a libertarian mean being anti-Israel? Please explain where this is coming from.

      1. It’s coming out of my ass. Underzog lives in my ass.

  15. One interesting angle that hasn’t been explored is the role of Mubarak crony Omar Suleiman in the Mid-East peace process. You’d expect that the US’ point man on negotiations would have a better handle on the mood of the Arab street. Yet, as we saw during the past few weeks, he never seemed to fully understand the frustration of his own population. His appearance yesterday on TV after Mubarak defiant speech was nothing short of disastrous and he always seemed to be two steps behind the protesters.
    Really is an indictment of the US foreign policy establishment considering how seriously they took this guy.

  16. Israel should heed Chou en Lai’s words: “Le paix c’est la bombe atomique.”

    “There’s no need to fear. Underzog is here!”

  17. a government that is subject to both constitutional and public accountability,

    Sounds nice; we should look into getting one of those too.

    1. Can’t be done; it would require cuts to Important Federal Programs.

  18. If they could really institute all those reforms, the Arab world would leapfrog past the United States and the European Union.

    It won’t happen, of course, but with a bit of luck this could still be a huge step towards more freedom in the Islamosphere.

  19. Thanks for your shareing!

  20. I really really want this to succeed and smear it all over the stupid hysterical Islamo-obsessed cons but…there are some seriously troubling numbers out of Egypt, like 3/4 being pro-sharia. I think there may be an ugly disconnect between these liberal protesters and the people who actually vote in elections. Nevertheless, Mubarak had to go. His economic reforms in 2004 were good but it still takes >500 days to open a bakery because of the 56 redundant beaurocracies to go through. Bless the Egyptian army.

    I guess the funniest part of this is the fact that the Iranian government seems to be cheering it on. Do they have any memory whatsoever? Don’t anti-regime street protests seem a little familiar to them?

  21. Does anyone have stats like “how many people believe in Sharia” for other successfully democratized Muslim countries like Indonesia and Bangladesh ca. the time they transitioned and today? Might be helpful in predicting Egypt’s course.

    1. Indonesia is slipping. It banned pornography a couple of years ago. The courts recently sentenced it’s first prisoner for distributing pornography, the rock star Nazril Ariel Irham.

      1. That sucks, but I think America has been there and back. They can ban pron all they want the internet doesn’t care.

  22. It’s worth noting that not only Julius Caesar but several other people over the centuries have been blamed for the destruction of the great library of Alexandria, and there doesn’t seem to be much evidence for any of them.

  23. This post gives me hope.

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