Fighting to Invent Democracy: A Defeat in Egypt

Democracy does not exist anywhere, but it is certainly in the process of being invented, for which we should thank those in Egypt, Brazil, Turkey, Bulgaria, and South Carolina (!) who are risking their personal safety on the streets right now in the vanguard of this long battle. Unfortunately, the supporters of democracy suffered a serious defeat in Egypt this week: no matter which side you favor, when an army marginalizes a popular party that was trying, if ineptly, to play by democratic rules, the army is removing a whole sector of the population from the democratic game. Democracy is only democratic if we are all invited to the party.

For global peace, the integration of Muslim political activists into the democratic process is critical. To accomplish this, frustrated Muslims must be convinced that the democratic process is open to them, that they can benefit from this strange, new Western concept that, to be honest, no Western society is even close to perfecting, but which offers inclusion, a level playing field, government transparency, civil rights, government officials who are servants rather than oppressors.

That wonderful vision–that exists in practice  nowhere on the planet–today finds its most heroic defenders in places like Tahrir Square and Rio de Janeiro and Greece. Even we citizens of the US–normally so quiescent on fundamental issues of democracy and our normal obsession with superficial argument–have had a fair number…in Wisconsin and now South Carolina. We, all of us, who care about this vision have suffered a defeat in Egypt with the military coup, the arrest of Morsi for trying to be president, the repulsive purge of Muslim Brotherhood leaders, and the harassment of reporters: the message that the world’s Muslims will learn from Egypt is that they are not allowed to participate in the democratic process, that it is not a level playing field, that democracy is a trick rigged for the benefit of imperialists and their lackeys, that political participation by peaceful means will not be allowed by the ruling elite. And sadly, Erdogan has taught the same message, if one phrases it more abstractly: rulers everywhere care nothing for democracy; what they want is power.

In truth, all sides in the current Egyptian tussle exhibited gross disregard for and confusion about the meaning of democracy: demands for immediate surrender, efforts to marginalize rather than listen to adversaries, refusal to negotiate, and threats of or actual indulgence in violence were rife. Such behavior creates a vicious spiral from freedom to repression. But the military’s manipulation of its “temporary” takeover to “preserve calm” for blatant political purposes, i.e., the marginalization of th Muslim Brotherhood, which clearly represents a large percentage of the Egyptian population, was way over the top. It was unambiguously a political move, and no group in society with the power of the gun should ever be allowed also to have political power, for that kind of total power totally corrupts.

And so, once again, we see a ruling elite arbitrarily breaking the rules for partisan benefit.

That is the attitude that must be changed. Only when rulers are forced to obey the rules they use against others will society be safe.

In the meantime, we can expect the chickens from the Egyptian repression to come home to roost in the form of more radicalism…and then more repression.

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