Quote of the week

[Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro] possesses, however, few of his predecessor’s resources, lacking not just oil revenue but Chávez’s surplus of charisma, humour and political skill. Maduro, unable to end the crisis, has increasingly sided with the privileged classes against the masses; his security forces are regularly dispatched into barrios to repress militants under the guise of fighting crime. Having lost its majority in Congress, the government, fearing it can’t win at the polls the way Chávez did, cancelled gubernatorial elections that had been set for December last year (though they now appear to be on again). Maduro has convened an assembly to write a new constitution, supposedly with the objective of institutionalising the power of social movements, though it is unlikely to lessen the country’s polarisation.

Greg Grandin
London Review of Books
25 May 2011

On Egypt and South Africa

I am visiting Egypt, a country whose transition to full democracy is precariously poised. The military is currently ruling the country after the Tahrir Square “revolution” and it is unclear how this transition will end. Everywhere we go, we hear Egyptians expressing anxiety about the transition and asking whether the lessons of South Africa might be of relevance for the situation in Egypt.

“We do not have a Nelson Mandela here,” some academics tell us rather wistfully.

But it is far too early to understand what is happening in Egypt and to know whether our own experience of transition from an authoritarian to a democratic state would be of any relevance here.

What strikes me forcefully though, is that the South African transition was quite unique. Why did the apartheid military not revolt when FW de Klerk started the negotiating process? How close did we get to a military coup? How did we end up with a strong social democratic constitution when large sections of our society are deeply conservative and seemingly opposed to the liberal aspects enshrined in the Constitution? Why did the ANC show such an agile ability to strike the necessary compromises required to ensure the relatively smooth transition? Would President Jacob Zuma and the current leadership of the ANC have been as wise and canny as the leaders around Nelson Mandela? What are all those apartheid generals now think about the transition?

I have no time to try and answer these questions now. I am back on Saturday when I will Blog again on my return.

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