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Monday, February 21, 2011

Last modified: Monday, February 21, 2011

Constitutional democracy expert: Egypt's future is bright, but proceed slowly

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Feb. 21, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The Egyptian military's plan to submit a revised constitution to a referendum within two months is a step in the right direction, but considerable risks remain and reformers should proceed slowly, according to an expert in constitutional democracy at the Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

"The main objective of Egypt's military is to maintain order," said David Williams, John S. Hastings Professor of Law and director of the school's Center for Constitutional Democracy. "Unlike previous presidents, who cultivated popular support, Hosni Mubarak ruled through terror and suppression of the social structure. Now that he is gone, he leaves behind a ravaged societal framework that may have trouble supporting a constitutional democracy. The military knows this, and there is a real risk that they may not return power to the people after all."

Williams added that the Egyptian people should proceed slowly toward constitutional reform. "Because Egypt is rebuilding its social structure, two or three months is too soon to complete the process," he said. "They can't go back to the old constitution, because it would simply ensure that Mubarak's successor stay in power indefinitely."

He believes that the referendum should adopt short-term amendments to return power to a civilian government, but cautioned that the process shouldn't end there. "The Egyptian people need to explore all alternatives for a structure that will break the pattern of corruption and suppression of the past 30 years," he said.

Williams suggested that the Egyptian people should abandon their current presidential structure and consider adopting a parliamentary form of government. "In countries such as Egypt, where the presidential system has prevented democracy from taking hold, the only way to move forward is to choose another system," he said. He believes that a parliamentary system will strike a better balance of power between the legislative and executive branches of government and create a stronger framework for building democracy.

"Egypt is emerging from the deep freeze," Williams observed. "The government needs to look forward, think long-term, and take time to build the social structures that will support a true constitutional democracy."

As director of the IU Maurer School of Law's Center for Constitutional Democracy, Williams has advised reform leaders in Burma, Liberia, Vietnam, and Central Asia on developing constitutional democracies. He is available for comment on recent events in Egypt, and can be reached at, or at 812-855-6793.

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