Polish Round Table Talks in Warsaw, Poland, on February 6, 1989. © Erazm Ciołek | Polska: sierpień 1980–sierpień 1989
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Reflections on a Revolutionary Imaginary and Round Tables

The new always appears in the guise of a miracle

This is the prepared text answering the question “What do we really know about transitions to democracy?” for  the General Seminar of The New School for Social Research, March 19, 2014.

It was a quarter of a century ago, in 1989, that a new kind of revolutionary imaginary emerged, one that promises a new beginning, and demonstrates the possibility of comprehensive systemic change without bloodshed. Velvet or otherwise un-radical, this kind of revolution has become a site of tangible hope, a site in which words have power, where people regain their dignity, and realize their agency through instruments other than weapons. Negotiated revolutionis not an oxymoron, but it is still an extraordinary event, as dictatorships are by definition opposed to any spirit of dialogue and compromise. …

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Woman casts her ballot in Egypt's 2014 constitutional referendum as child looks on © Bora S. Kamel | Flickr
EssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

Egypt’s Constitutional Mess and Solutions from South Africa

Of the many important lessons the Egyptian people might take away from their 2014 constitutional referendum, three certainly stand out in stark relief: first, that the military owns the product of the plebiscite and must also own the political consequences; second, that no constitution or government will enjoy true legitimacy without a national reconciliation effort; and third, that the pathway out of Egypt’s transitional morass might in fact begin at the other end of the continent in South Africa.

When the government of ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi sent its constitution to a public referendum in December 2012, it would have been a tall order to find a more emblematic case study in how not to establish a democratically legitimate national charter. In a desperate effort to jam through a constitution that would ensconce its role in governance, the Brotherhood made several strategic blunders that virtually ensured the showdown that led to Morsi’s ouster: …

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