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Elections do not make a democracy

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An election is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for democracy. That's the takeaway from the continuing upheaval in Egypt.

Last year, Mohamed Morsi became Egypt's first freely elected president. Morsi won with 51.7% of the vote, slightly more than the 51.1% that Barack Obama won in 2012. Morsi was the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist organization that had been banned and persecuted in Egypt for 60 years.

Morsi's overthrow last week put the United States on the spot. Could Washington support the removal of a democratically elected government, even one we did not like?

The Morsi government may have been elected, but there are other requirements for a democracy. A democratic government has to guarantee minority rights. It has to accept the opposition as legitimate. It has to be willing to abide by the rules. And the truest test of a democracy is that the government has to give up power if it is defeated at the polls.

The Morsi government failed all those tests except the last one. That's because it was only in power for a year and got removed by the military before it could stand for re-election.

In that one year, however, Morsi asserted near-unlimited power over the country. He appointed Islamic radicals to key positions. He rammed through a new constitution that enshrined the principles of Islamic law. He arrested opponents and allowed attacks on religious minorities. He neglected the failing economy. He angered the military by calling for Egyptian intervention in Ethiopia and Syria.

Last Friday, the Republican chairman and ranking Democratic member of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee issued a joint statement saying, "Real democracy requires inclusiveness, compromise, respect for human and minority rights and a commitment to the rule of law. Morsi and his inner circle did not embrace any of those principles and instead chose to consolidate power and rule by fiat."

Egypt has always been a secular country. But a majority of its voters are religious and, given a chance to compete in free elections, they will elect an Islamist government. That has happened in other Arab and Muslim countries as well, for example, Tunisia, Turkey, Iran. In 2006, Palestinians in Gaza elected a Hamas government allied with Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood.

Islamist governments usually infuriate the secular population and antagonize the military which is what happened in Egypt. Tensions are also high in Turkey, where a relatively moderate Islamic government faces large-scale protests by the secular population.

The point is, elections sometimes produce unsavory results. The classic example was the German parliamentary elections of July and November 1932, which made the Nazis Germany's largest party. As a result, Adolf Hitler became chancellor in 1933.

Morsi is no Hitler, but the Muslim Brotherhood is a paranoid and fanatical movement whose long-term commitment to democracy is much in doubt.

To radical Islamists, elections are a way to gain power. They are enraged because the results of Egypt's 2012 election have been nullified. "Didn't we do what they asked?" an Islamist voter told The New York Times, "We don't believe in democracy to begin with. It's not part of our ideology. But we accepted it. We followed them, and then this is what they do?"

An Islamist in Libya had this complaint: "Do you think I can sell to the people any more? I have been saying all along, 'If you want to build Shariah law, come to elections.' Now they will just say, 'Look at Egypt,' and you don't need to say anything else."

To many Islamists, the United States has been exposed as hypocritical. We promote democracy, but we will not stand by a democratically elected government when it is threatened. Many believe that Washington was complicit in Morsi's overthrow. The Obama administration reportedly tried to broker a compromise that Morsi was unwilling to accept.

At the same time, secular Egyptians complain that Washington did not criticize Morsi's undemocratic regime. To them, it proves that Washington is interested only in stability, not democracy. Didn't the United States support the corrupt regime of deposed Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak all those years?

More than any other recent event, the overthrow of the Mursi government in Egypt highlights a conflict between the form and the substance of democracy. "Why is it just ballot boxes?" a human-rights activist asked. "Are ballot boxes the only forms of democratic expression when the rulers fail the people?"

We Americans nurture the pothole theory of democracy. We like to believe that, if a radical government is elected, it will quickly learn that it has to moderate and serve the needs of the people in order to stay in power. It has to fill the potholes and keep the lights on.

But to many Islamic radicals, the ballot is just an alternative to the bullet as a way to gain power. They are ready to abandon democracy if the military and the West won't allow them to stay in power.

There was a frightening sight in Egypt last week. Thousands of Morsi supporters rallied under the black flag of jihad and chanted, "No more elections after today!" But democracy means a lot more than holding elections. That's something they have to learn.

We just learned it in Egypt.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2013.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

8 Comments
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Completely true but left out is the fact that "democracy" is not what magically somehow keeps a government from being despotic. It is the acceptance and protection of the unalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that makes the difference. Yes it is right out of the American Declaration of Independence, which is itself falsely considered "non-binding" by America's own government. The FACT is every single woman and man on this planet is beholden to nothing but his or her own existence leaving only consideration and respect for the fact that everyone else shares the same freedom. We are not on the planet earth to be the subjects of a bunch of freeloading people or political class, whether they call themselves poor, christian, chiefs, Barons, Sheikhs, Presidents, Ayatollahs or Senators or "insert the designation of any member of any political class" . Any form of government can actually protect the unalienable self defined individual rights clearly illustrated by the US Declaration of Independence. It requires a political class always under the control and thumb of the governed. The moment the political class assumes control of the governed, it is despotism. Despotism can occur in any form of government as well, including Democracy.

Which leads to another false belief of most people, Democracy is not how America is set up, nor is it worth doing. Egypt is the perfect example of why not. A terrorist group using the slight majority of the MOB population to obtain control giving themselves legitimacy by claiming "the people" voted for it, so therefore whatever the despotic group does must be accepted.

Well Egypt is not demonstrating the other part of the US Declaration of Independence that is also just as binding as the concept of individual right to freedom from the political class and freedom from everyone else's opinion, holybook or tradition. That 4th identified right(though all rights a person can imagine already exist) but the 4th right illustrated by the Declaration is specifically the right of a people in a nation to eliminate their political class, the moment that political class moves away from protecting freedom and instead becomes despotic.

All people of every nation, including America have the unalienable right to remove its political class and start over. The Egyptian people have learned to exercise this right decisively and it is good to see they are choosing to continue to remove politicians and would be despots instead of putting up with them.

It is too bad most people in the world actually believe because a vote happened somehow that means Tyranny has disappeared. Worse those same people believe a law or vote is legitimate because of simple Mob majority vote or supposed representatives vote on law that alienates a person from his unalienable rights.

Lets hope Egyptians keep firing politicians until they get a group of useful ones.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

A democratic government MUST be elected by majority of the people, and most importantly, MUST be acceptable to the big brothers

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

No a democratic government is one elected by the largest number of votes in elections which are free, open and fair.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

The guy didn't even have one year to do what he promised to do in 4 years! How many of his promises did Obama accomplish in his first year in office?!? After nearly 5 years he still hasn't accomplished his first promise: closing Gitmo! The fact is very simple, the military in Egypt is under full US control, it would not have done this with out green light from the US. It has nothing to do with the people!

All this talk about Morsi not using all of Egypt's political parties is also not acceptable! How many republicans does Obama hire and vice versa, the same for all countries. When one party comes into power they hire people closer to their own ideology.

One more thing you are all ignoring: as long as I remember, Morsi asked the secular groups to join all the decision making sessions but they usually quit all the discussions them selves without making any compromise. So please don't only blame the Muslim Brotherhood! The secular groups are equally at fault, if not more.

I am personally totally opposed to religion mixing into politics, thus I fundamentally disagree with the existence of Muslim Brotherhood (as a political Islamic group). What I am saying is that the reasons you are putting forward to justify the coup d'etat are totally baseless.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Any President is only as effective as the Congress he inherits. If he wanted to do everything possible to make life better for the average person, he could only do it with an agreeable Congress. Any bill introduced has to go through a difficult process just to get consideration . The only true Democracy would be one where the people voted on all bills up for proposal as laws. This of course, will never happen under current conditions.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Democracy was the worst invention EVER. Responsible for the deaths of millions.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

dangerous opinions in big brotherly times where everything gets dismantled into separate bits through the eyes of the prism and what not but i'm not speaking out for or against egypt or any other nation in particular and i might have voiced it in another post but to me a real democratic majority consists of 3/4 , a 50/50 situation is close to a political simulation of a civil war in my sometimes humble opinion. It's hard to achieve i suppose but the classic divide et impera the romans were so keen on has no reason not to work for those in power wanting to keep it, up to the present day. A system of proposition/oppposition is an easy division between two camps where two groups can just pit it against each other instead of one government working as one unit to further the needs of its people. Furthermore in my once more somewhat less then humble opinion a real democracy is not a particracy, a system where parties get elected in a democratic way has it so that each party 'should' represent the moat of the population that elected it, overhere it's divided into factions like : liberals (which is in fact more like the business/tech, maybe relentless progress/science faction), socialists (needs no explanation), green (environmentalists), the traditionalists born from the original catholic party at the birth of this paper nation and ofcourse the everpresent-wherever-you-go nationalists. Some minor factions deviating but originating from those also exist but never get to hold any real power. In reality after election every faction tries to get a grip on any kind of lawmaking, while as a government in an ideal situation every faction should do best to stick to its field of expertise where it comes to lawmaking. Instead you have environmentalists and socialists doing economics and roundabout vice-versa everything. In a real true daimocraty, the voice of the people, or the people speaking i never had a classic greek education so excuse me if my translation lacks finesse, but it is the ancient greeks who came up with it afaik, not george washington even if the man probably had some merit of his own, that goes without saying in a real democracy, lawmakers make laws but do not vote on them, lawmakers make laws, people vote on laws as well a time consuming process? from the looks of it not having people vote is also a time consuming process. Influence by media i hear someone say? That's already so : public opinion seems to be a major factor in political decision making, to the point where it might even lead to impracticalities in law since voters put lawmakers in power but that's as far as present day democracy goes. I'd say my five cents, but with this crisis it's safe to say these are just my five euro on the matter. (and i wasnt gonna reply to forum posts anymore but this summer heat is making a very boring day into a very hot, very boring day) i could probably rant on longer but maybe i shouldn't

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I have a message for these pro-Morsi protesters protesting against his ouster:

Next time try electing someone who doesn't piss off most of the country after he takes power.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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