English history offers a parallel for Egyptian political reform (2)


In 1689, an unconstitutional English Parliament (unconstitutional because it was not called by the King) met and wrote a new constitution (the original constitution was unwritten). The Bill of Rights narrowed the discretionary power of the monarch, increased the independence of the judiciary, in all but name eliminated any notion of the divine right of kings, and significantly increased the powers of parliament. Most importantly, the suffrage was strictly limited to some 5 per cent of the male population (women had no suffrage until the early 20th century). A high property requirement was set in place for any person to vote. Members of Parliament served without pay, unless appointed as members of the Cabinet. King William III and Queen Mary II were required to sign this Bill of Rights before they could jointly access the throne.

This new constitution significantly reduced the arbitrary discretion of the monarch. Equally important, it set in place a parliament that would firmly establish and enforce property rights, thus paving the way for the Industrial Revolution. Britain became the richest and most powerful nation on the planet, building an Empire on which the sun would never set. Slowly, over time, the suffrage was allowed to expand, until in 1884, individuals without property were allowed to vote. This opened the gates to socialism and to the decline and fall of the British Empire.

Egypt is not yet ready for such a transition. Poorly educated as much of its population is, and subject to Islamic religious fanaticism as one-third of its population, surely is, there is no immediate prospect of establishing and maintaining an effective secular parliamentary system.

So the military, for the time being will have to govern. Since senior members of the military are at this time the primary holders of property in Egypt, this should ensure that an effective system of property rights will be established. If the military is far-sighted, I recommend that tit follows the example set by General Augusto Pinochet in Chile when he seized power from an incompetent and socialist President Allende. The General called in free-market Chilean economists trained at the University of Chicago by Milton Friedman, George Stigler, Gary Becker and Arnold Harberger to reform the economic institutions of Chile. Remarkable success followed. When the General voluntarily stepped down from power and returned Chile to democracy, the country was the richest in Latin America, and remains so to this day. This time around, it may not be so exclusively the Chicago-boys that are called to service – Chicago unfortunately is no longer an uncontaminated citadel of free-market economics. Other universities – such as UCLA, George Mason University, New York University, and Clemson University – may have to supplement Chicago supply.

While so ruling, the Egyptian military should ensure that all young Egyptians, females as well as males, receive a secular education. They should ensure that the job market is open equally to females as well as to males. They should offer stability of rule for a time-period sufficient for wealth-enhancing institutions to emerge. This may take five to ten years of transition governance.

The military should then write a new constitution for Egypt, modeled closely on the United States Constitution. A strict separation between Mosque, Church and Temple on the one side and the State on the other side, should be imposed. As in 1787, the suffrage should be strictly limited by a property requirement, albeit allowing females equal access with males to the ballot box. The secret ballot should be required. The initial suffrage should be restricted to no more than ten per cent of the adult population. Voters should satisfy both the requisite property requirement and (possibly) should be limited to individuals with university degrees and equivalent professional qualifications.The judiciary should be completely independent from the executive and legislative branches of government.

Then the world would truly marvel at the high rate of economic growth and economic freedom achieved by an Egypt unfettered from the bonds of autocracy and backward-Muslim religious fanaticism.

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4 Responses to “English history offers a parallel for Egyptian political reform (2)”

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