The Futility of Democracy, Egypt Edition

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 7/09/2013 02:16:00 PM
The miserable plight of Egypt post-Mubarak points out shortfalls of mindlessly championing the virtues of "democracy." Americans, already despised in the Middle East for their "elections are great...unless you elect Hamas" hypocrisy, are particularly guilty in this latest fiasco. Worthy of especially harsh condemnation is equating electoral democracy as the be-all and end-all of it.

For Western observers, the heart of the matter is that Islamic fundamentalism remains the most organized and potent political force in Egypt. While Mubarak's suppression of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists may not have been "democratic," the source of his brand of "extremism" was in keeping secularism in place as per Western desires. Without such restraints, it was only natural that fundamentalists would make their influence felt. After a short period of military-appointed caretaker rule, they won parliamentary elections. They won the presidential elections. They led in drafting an Islamic-tinged constitution.

Meanwhile, the military--previous guarantor of secularism--has demonstrated in the past week that it retains an itchy trigger finger when fundamentalists are in sight--whether they were isolated from politics in the Mubarak era or its central players during the current era. I thus remain wary of the prescribed cure this time around: After a short period of military-appointed caretaker rule, hold parliamentary elections. Hold presidential elections. Draft a new constitution. Is this the new spin cycle?
Egypt's interim rulers issued a faster than expected timetable for elections to try to drag the country out of crisis, a day after 51 people were killed when troops fired on a crowd supporting ousted President Mohamed Mursi. The streets of Cairo were quiet on Tuesday but Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood movement called for more protests later in the day, raising the risk of further violence. Under pressure to restore democracy quickly, Adli Mansour, the judge named head of state by the army when it brought down Mursi last week, decreed overnight that a parliamentary vote would be held in about six months. That would be followed by a presidential election.
I needn't point out the obvious: Short of banning Islamic fundamentalists from participating in yet more elections, the results of such exercises will likely resemble previous ones insofar as the opposition (if you can even speak of one) remains disorganized and fragmented. With the Muslim Brotherhood so aggrieved, will it not redouble its efforts at the ballot box? Or, won't the more politically astute Salafists pick up the slack that the Brothers may leave? Either way, the end result should look the same: Islamic fundamentalism leaving its mark on Egyptian government.

Truly, it is a lose-lose situation: Banning Islamic fundamentalists hardly seems a democratic option, but it's the best one if the intent is to shield Egypt from further ravages of their brand of politics. Meanwhile, allowing fundamentalists to run unimpeded will most likely result in yet another reality-challenged leadership configuration. It certainly makes any number of white people wish those Egyptian youths hadn't bothered with protesting against Mubarak in the first place since many of the things they desired that he provided for a long time--political stability, secularism, and a willing ally--no longer are there.

In closing, I have some pointed questions for the democratic fundamentalists in America and elsewhere:
  1. Why advocate holding elections when you do not recognize the legitimate winners--regardless of their identities?
  2. If the military simply carried out the "will of the people" protesting in the millions on Egyptian streets by overthrowing the democratically-elected Morsi regime, then why bother with elections and just have mob rule through selection processes determined by the thronging masses?  [Call it the "Free Barabbas!" school of democracy.]
Egyptian democracy is a joke. I honestly do not think that doing the same things over and over again--quickie elections and the rest of it--until you finally end up with a suitably pliant and passably palatable regime is the answer. Egyptians have tired of being pawns in regional power politics when it is they who suffer the most in this shambolic process.

UPDATE: Is Saudi Arabia giving these bankrupts $5 B really to demonstrate how overthrowing authoritarian regimes (like Saudi's own) doesn't necessarily promote better outcomes? Perhaps I didn't need convincing.