The Problem with “Bendable” Democracy

July 11, 2013 7:35 pm0 comments by:
Representation of Pericles, in the middle of the speech.

Ancient Greek Representation of Pericles, in the middle of the speech.

It is a cliché to say that democracy means different things to different people. As it happens, its meaning might be different with time as well. Take the Ancient Greek City states with their direct democracy. Only free adult male constituted “the people”. The women and slaves, regardless of their genders didn’t make the cut.

On Wednesday, July 3, the military in Egypt overthrew the first, and as of now, the only first democratically elected president. The move plunged the country into more chaos than it sought to solve. The military argued that it was just responding to the “people’s” demands. In this case, the “people” the military listened to their demands were those camped in Tahrir square demanding the president to quit.

Anti-Morsi protesters claimed to have collected 22 million signatures to their cause. Were this to be the case, then these are more people by millions compared to the votes Morsi received. It makes one wonder why these protesters didn’t take their strength to the ballot box in parliamentary elections. Or better yet, go for a referendum to prove their case. But No! They weren’t open for those avenues.

When the military gave Morsi and his opponents 48 hours ultimatum to resolve their differences or else they would “intervene to provide a roadmap”, those opposed to Morsi and his party, The Muslim Brotherhood sensed blood and went for the kill. They were more than happy to invite the military back into the political process, and in turn, the military appointed Adly Mansour as an interim president.

Simply put, Egyptians went to back to the very system they rebelled against in 2011. Understandably, The Muslim Brotherhood has flatly rejected the process that was set in motion by the coup, and they are now calling for an “uprising” against the military so as to have Morsi re-instated. More than 1000 people have been injured, and body count is rising fast.

Most telling was the reaction to the coup. Most countries in the West which are quick to point fingers and impose sanctions when a soldiers step in politics by replacing civilians, dithered.  From the U.S, to Europe. In the Middle East and Arab countries, many rulers celebrated the downfall of the Brotherhood. It is a demonised political force, and seems to have perfected the fine art of making enemies and maintaining old ones. Saud King even sent congratulatory message, while besieged Syria’s Assad sent a message settling scores.

Of all things, African Union got it right by suspending Egypt’s membership to the continental body following the coup. Oh! Life and its ironies. AU didn’t suspend Egypt so as to uphold whatever democratic standards it has set for itself but for the fact that most of heads of state and government in this continent have suspect legitimacy. Elections are rigged, bought, voters intimidated, corrupted, or have their names removed from registers. If coups were to be tolerated, then few would be left standing.

They are saving their own skins.

The military in Egypt have set a very dangerous precedent. I wonder one year[?], with more than 9000 protests would’ve made any difference to a system that had run modern Egypt. I mean, since the days of Mohammed Ali in the late 19th Century that country have been dominated by strong men.

The military came to centre stage following the coup of 1952. In such circumstances, it was so suspect that these men (and women) in uniform would just drop out of the spotlight after Morsi won the 2012 presidential elections. They remained the real power behind the throne. The military has maintained a proclivity to meddle in civic matters and the message was pressed home with the victory of the Brotherhood, whom they have had very tense and complicated relations. So, here we are.

Stable institutions are sine qua non to establishing vibrant democracy in a country which was ruled by iron fist for decades. There is no way for these institutions to be established in a single year. At one time during his short presidency, responding to a question about protests in his country, Morsi said “we are learning to be free.”

It seems the lesson was lost or misunderstood by overzealous students and a military which had all along been in the shadows waiting for a perfect time to make a comeback at the behest of civilians, of all things.

The Arab spring in Egypt that toppled the long-time strongman, was refreshing and offered a new path for the Land of the Pharaoh. Those opposed to Morsi chanted that “the revolution continues”. In all reality though, the country has taken a very slippery slope into the abyss.

On the death of Pope John Paul I, a Cardinal was heard murmuring the epitaph that was of Pope Leo XI, “magis hostentus quam datum-more showed than given.” That couldn’t be more true of the Egyptian Arab spring.

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