Most historians agree that the first wave of democratic transitions that swept Eastern Europe in the late 1980s – transforming Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic – was significantly more successful than the second wave that occurred in countries such as Ukraine, Serbia, and Georgia, proving yet again that the road to reform and democracy is long and uneven. While Egypt’s revolution has unique characteristics specific to the country’s demographic and institutional features, political parties and movements leading the transition should look to the key factors associated with successful revolutions in Eastern Europe, which point to the necessity of institutional reform, the anchor of any transition to democracy.
In countries such as Poland and the Czech Republic, institutional reforms successfully replaced former corrupt leaders with those possessing demonstrated competence and integrity. Ukraine and Serbia, however, failed to undertake sufficient institutional reforms. In Ukraine, the Orange Revolution government did not do enough to purge or reform its Justice and Security Sector, leaving the security apparatus shackled with the legacy of corruption and lack of professionalism associated with its Soviet past. Corruption under President Viktor Yushchenko reached even higher levels than that seen under his predecessor, Leonid Kuchma, initiating a regression backward toward authoritarianism.
The Orange Revolutionaries bear some responsibility for the Ukraine’s authoritarian backsliding due to internal divisions that undermined the prospects for institutional reform. Two pitfalls particularly relevant to Egypt include:
1. Weak state/executive power: The key to successful reform lies in building state institutions that are not so strong as to interfere with citizens’ political and economic freedoms but strong enough to effectively enforce the rule of law. In the
Successful democratic transitions in Eastern Europe mostly adopted the parliamentary system that empowered the legislative branch enough to allow for decisive and effective decision-making. Those countries, unlike the
Egypt now faces a critical milestone in which it must determine its political regime in the new constitution. Egypt needs a strong executive branch, as in the case of the presidential or semi-presidential system. Egypt’s paradigm closely resembles the Ukraine in its need to enact quick reforms in state institutions, a process that cannot afford the delays and hurdles of protracted negotiations between parliamentary blocs.
2. Weak reformist legislation:
Another Eastern European mistake that Egypt would do best to avoid is a lack of reformist legislation. At least partially due to the conflict between the parliamentary blocs, the Ukrainian parliament could not produce the far-reaching legislation needed for a successful transition. Some so-called “reformist” laws simply perpetuated the authoritarian Soviet culture typical of the old regime. For
Parliament must also rescind those laws that tolerate human rights violations while also focusing on anti-corruption legislation. Ensuring Trade Union freedoms and maintaining contact with youth/revolutionary movements and civil society actors should also remain top priorities. Otherwise, parliament will be isolated from the revolutions’ main actors and thus out of touch with their primary demands.