Egypt's Tragicomedy: Democracy from the Barrel of a Gun
United Daily News editorial (Taipei, Taiwan, ROC)
July 5, 2013
Summary: At the behest of the military, Egypt changed overnight. Mohammed Morsi,
Egypt's first democratically elected president, was ousted one year into
his term. Two and a half years ago, the masses gathered in Tahrir
Square and successfully demanded that dictator Hosni Mubarak step down.
Once again, people power prevailed. But can the Egyptian people really
achieve the democracy they desire at the point of a gun?
Full Text below:
At the behest of the military, Egypt changed overnight. Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, was ousted one year into his term. Two and a half years ago, the masses gathered in Tahrir Square and successfully demanded that dictator Hosni Mubarak step down. Once again, people power prevailed. But can the Egyptian people really achieve the democracy they desire at the point of a gun?
The military issued an ultimatum. Morsi was extremely recalcitrant. He boasted that he was the freely elected president of a democracy, whose rule was completely legimate and legal. Yet with scant resistance, the military was able to announce his removal from office. It was able to appoint Adly Mahmud Mansour interim national leader. Mansour had been appointed Chief Justice of the Constitutional Court only two days earlier. The action had apparently been planned long ago.
The Egyptian military has ousted a democratically elected president. Was this a coup d'etat? Outsiders are witholding judgment. The military says it is merely complying with the "will of the people." Their action is apparently welcomed by the public. The Egyptian military has assured the U.S. government that it "has no intention of ruling." If "public opinion" is any indicator of democracy, public opinion appears to favor the military. But does this amount to "imbibing poisoned wine in order to quench one's thirst?" That is difficult to say. Will leaders during the transitional period consult with the public, hold another election, and form a democratic government? Then and only then will Egypt have broken its pattern of military dictatorships established under Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak.
Military intervention is disturbing. But democratically elected president Morsi was even more intolerable to the Egyptian people. This was a classic case of choosing between the lesser of two evils. The problem with Morsi is that there will be no effective interim government. His administration wantonly appointed Muslim Brotherhood cronies and authored a constitution based solely on his personal whims. But he brought only economic ruin and social chaos. Egypt was originally an Islamic nation with strong secular tendencies. Morsi attempted to impose theocratic rule, and use conservative religious dogma to restrict people's private conduct. As a result, Egypt's secularists, liberals, women, youth, and even forces from the previous regime, are united in their opposition to him.
Morsi may have been a democratically elected president. But his administration failed to fulfill the hopes of the Jasmine Revolution. It could not avoid being overthrown. Such events offer a sober reminder about modern democratic politics. Put simply, an elected head of state must answer to public opinion. He cannot boast that "I won the election" and flaunt his legitimacy and legality. In today's democracy public opinion changes rapidly. Merely winning an election is no longer enough.
Consider the most obvious example. Last month waves of protests hit Turkey. In recent years, Turkey has enjoyed swift economic growth. Many sectors of the economy are thriving. Premier Dogan Erdogan's sound governance has attracted international attention. But a park demolition project in the nation's capitol provoked overwhelming public opposition. Erdogan initially assumed an arrogant posture. He trumpeted his decade long record of accomplishments. He said the public supported a third term. But amidst fierce public unrest, he was eventually forced to offer a low-keyed apology.
Erdogan's dazzling record won him public support. But his arrogance inspired the Western media to ridicule his regime as "zombie democracy." His government met all the formal requirements of democracy. But it lacked a heart. It failed to understand the feelings of the people. Think about it. Erdogan was responsible for Turkey's economic success. Yet even he was not immune to such resentment. Morsi on the other hand, merely won a single election victory. Yet he considered that a mandate to personally write a new constitution, reshuffle the cabinet, and change the social order. He failed to create prosperity for the people or offer them a vision for the future. How was his regime any different from a dictatorship? On the eve of Morsi's downfall, six ministers resigned, abandoning him. The Muslim Brotherhood headquarters were burned. How the public felt about him was obvious.
Will Egyptian military intervention lead to comedy or tragedy? That is difficult to say. Two years ago during the Jasmine Revolution, authoritarian leaders were ousted, only to be replaced by strongman dictatorship, economic decline, and political corruption. Who could have known? By the same token, soldiers have driven out an arrogant head of state. They have met with public expectations. But will the military forces become addicted to meddling in domestic affairs? Will Egyptian democracy turn into government at gunpoint? That is equally difficult to say. For a nation to move from dictatorship to democracy, requires institutional guarantees, regulations, and long term social constraints. It cannot be implemented overnight. But fewer and fewer people have the patience. The rulers remain mired in the mentality of authoritarianism. How can anyone tolerate zombie democracy?
In any event, large scale protests, from Turkey to Egypt, have deposed democratically elected heads of state. This is a lesson for all leaders. Do not think only of the power at your disposal. Instead, think of your responsibilities!
2013.07.05 03:18 am