Sunday, July 07, 2013

On Egypt, Morsi and Creating Democracy

Recently, we have heard quite a bit coming out of Egypt regarding the rise and rather abrupt fall of the Morsi government.

One of the things that has really struck me has been protestations from supporters of Morsi that "he is the democratically elected president".

Yes, he was elected in what was seen to be a fair election.  However, democracy is far more than merely just the conduct of elections.

When Morsi was elected, concerns were raised about the kind of legislation he might put forward.  Certainly, in the last part of 2012, Morsi asserted powers that one would never have expected of a democrat and his proposed constitution was certainly seen as questionable - critics argued that it was opening the door to the creation of a religious state dominated by Islam.

This is where the issue of "creating" a democracy runs into difficulty.  One of the key attributes of modern democracies is the willingness to take steps to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority.

As modern democracy evolved, the notion of individual rights and freedoms became a key part of the concept that underlies not only the governmental structures, but the society in which that government lives as well.  Among the key freedoms was always an individual notion of freedom of religion - in other words the right for any individual to hold whatever religious believes they choose without being subject to sanction by the government.

This is where Morsi's supporters seem to have fallen off the wagon a little.  Many leaders in non-democratic nations can lay claim to having been "democratically elected".  That doesn't make them so, nor does it make them leaders of anything resembling a democracy.  Trying to create a state which is dominated by official recognition of a particular faith implicitly violates one of the key tenets of modern democracy.

That said, while I am uncomfortable with Morsi's attempts to create an "Islamic State" in Egypt, I am also profoundly troubled by the military intervention in recent weeks.  There are a lot of questions yet to be answered before Egypt's direction will make any sense.

In my opinion, you cannot create a democracy readily.   If the society does not have a shared understanding of what the term means, then you end up with a situation where the most destructive people will take the reigns of power.

Egypt may have to go through several more governments before they get to a stable democracy.

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