Egypt: how to negotiate the transition.

Fascinating and thoughtful post by Maciej Bartkowski and Lester R. Kurtz contrasting the different ways in which the Chinese and Polish pro-democracy movements approached the task of dealing with the regime. This part of the piece deals with the Polish ‘Roundtable’:

When the Roundtable met, sitting next to regime representatives was almost the whole spectrum of oppositionists, from conservatives and liberals to social democrats and the main social actors: trade unions, intellectuals and the Catholic church. In the main room of the Council of Ministers office where the round table was set up, 60 negotiators from the government and opposition were seated side by side. The leader of Solidarity, Lech Wałesa, and the minister of interior Czesław Kiszczak, co-chaired the main sessions. The round table discussions were divided into three ‘tables’ for political reforms, economic and social policies, and union and party pluralism. Each table was co-chaired by two representatives – one from the government and another from the opposition. Simultaneously, the more detailed and technical discussions concerning the main themes of the ‘tables’ were taking place in twelve ‘sub-tables’ and in a number of working groups bringing together more than three hundred government and opposition leaders. If negotiators could not agree on some issues they were submitted to higher ‘tables’ for further discussions, and in case the disagreement continued the main leaders were then involved in trying to come to an accord.

It was agreed from the beginning that the negotiations would be public and its main sessions televised. Given censorship in media that existed prior to negotiations, the Roundtable gave the opposition an opportunity to present and explain their views openly and reach out to the public. The negotiations took almost two months to conclude. The Roundtable led to legalization of the opposition, the establishment of a bi-cameral parliament with open elections for 35% of seats in the lower chamber and for all seats in the Senate, freedoms of expression and press, and freedom to set up political and civic organizations. Most importantly, the round table negotiations built trust among the parties involved that they would adhere to democratic principles despite political differences and thus led to the peaceful transformation of the Polish state.

The problem with Egypt — as the authors observe — is that whereas in Polant the Communist regime was relatively coherent in terms of ideology and control, the Mubarak regime is a ragbag of security agencies, kleptomaniacs and cronies.