08/07/2013 05:00 pm ET Updated Oct 07, 2013

A Democratic Roadmap for Egypt

Egypt is in a complex gridlock that shows no signs of improvement. Part of the population wants Morsi to return, whether out of support for him as a leader, or for democratic legitimacy. Another part is glad he is gone. Tamarrod, the movement that persistently protested Morsi and his policies, leading up to the military coup, saw in Morsi a power-hungry religious zealot who did not represent all Egyptians. Morsi won by a very slim margin of 51.7 percent. Many of those who voted for him did so out of spite for Morsi's opponent, Shafik, who was a symbol of Mubarak's regime. This anti-Morsi sentiment was compounded with economic stagnation that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were blamed for. Such grievances culminated in a coup that claimed the lives of hundreds of Egyptians, leaving Egypt in a state of puzzling uncertainty.

SCAF and its tyranny aside, the conflict boils down to a clash between democratic legitimacy and weak constitutional and institutional foundations. "Ballotocracy" is a term used to describe the democracy within which Morsi operated. Thomas Jefferson once said, "A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine." That is only true when democracy is unaided by a the proper framework and the rule of law. The solution to this 'tyranny of the masses' is a solid institutional and constitutional foundation.

The "roadmap" proposed by Sisi and his friends after the coup did not suggest immediate elections after Morsi's ouster in order to ensure a strong and representative constitution is drafted before heading back to the ballot box. Egypt's fate is in the hands of the military as I've pointed out in an earlier article, and I do not suspect they would endorse a roadmap that would limit their power. But here it is anyway:

Morsi is allowed to return as interim president of Egypt for strictly six months and on the condition that he agrees to step down. He is accompanied by a SCAF-appointed PM, after which free and fair elections are held. During the 6 months, an independent commission is tasked with drafting a constitution that is cemented with a referendum.

This allows for Egypt's constitution to be developed so that it is representative and binding, while maintaining Morsi's "democratic legitimacy." Pro-Morsi protesters would go back to their homes. Anti-Morsi protesters would rest assured that Morsi's powers are checked, monitored, and shared with a prime minister of the opposition's choosing. And Egypt would salvage whatever potential for democracy it has left.

This leaves us with the question of whether political leaders will accept this plan. If it was publically announced and suggested to Morsi, his refusal would take away from the legitimacy of Islamist sit-ins and make them look like obstacles to progress. The pressure and spotlight will be on Morsi to compromise, and he and the MB likely will.

If the opposition refuses it, they too would be perceived as obstacles to progress that are more interested in attacking Morsi than stabilizing Egypt and working towards a representative democracy.

The only party that would stand to lose in this scenario is the SCAF. Such a roadmap would guarantee civilian rule in six months, stripping them of the omnipotence they currently enjoy. As I argued in an earlier article, the chances that Egypt's military will transparently cede power to a democratically elected civilian president again are quite slim.

However, if a roadmap along these lines becomes a publically debated matter, either by endorsement of opposition figures such as El Baradei, or as a suggestion by a mediating third party such as Ennahda, the spotlight might shift to the military, pressuring them to consider such a solution.

The fact remains that Morsi was a democratically elected president. Those who voted for him have every right to demand the contract they entered be honored. That is why the only compromise to make, if a democratic Egypt is worth fighting for, is to maintain democratic legitimacy, develop strong constitutional and institutional foundations, and replace SCAF with a democratically elected civilian government as soon as possible. The decision to save Egypt is in the hands of many political actors, but first and foremost it is in the hands of the military and its leader.