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MUSTAFA AKYOL > The pharaohdom strikes back

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These days, a “soft coup” is taking place in Egypt. It is soft, for nobody has been killed in it – at least yet. But it is a coup for sure, for it amounts to nothing other than the curbing of democratic power and the consolidation of the regime of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s fallen dictator.

The top coup leaders are the generals of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces (SCAF). They initiated the process last week, first by reinstating the martial law which allows the military to arrest any civilian they want. Then, just the next day, the Supreme Constitutional Court, an ally of the generals, gave a shocking decision that dissolved the first free and fairly elected Parliament in six decades.

As if this shameless attack on democracy were not enough, the SCAF even imposed a constitutional change which limited the powers of the presidency. Because Egypt just had its first free and fair presidential elections, whose winner seems to be Mohammed Morsi, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood. The official results are expected to be announced tomorrow and we will see whether the shamelessness of the establishment will go as far as forging election results in favor of its favorite candidate: Ahmed Shafiq, a former Air Force general and the last prime minister of Hosni Mubarak.

All of this shows that the Egyptian Revolution – that heroic and historic uprising against tyranny – is far from being complete. The revolutionary forces of Cairo’s Tahrir Square have certainly been able to take Egypt’s longtime “pharaoh,” Hosni Mubarak, down. But the pharaohdom, with its military, judiciary and political extensions like Ahmet Shafiq, is alive and kicking back.

For worse, there are advocates of the pharaohdom even in the West, and even who claim to be “liberal.” These people keep on pumping the very propaganda that Hosni Mubarak has used for decades: that free and fair elections will bring Islamists to power, and that is why democracy must be curbed. Secular tyranny, in other words, must be upheld against a possible Islamist tyranny. And the very vicious cycle that has toughened the Islamists – their exclusion leading to their radicalization – must be preserved.

I, of course, reject this tyranny-is-necessary-to-protect-liberty argument. If Islamists win the elections, then they must be allowed to govern. Only this will make them more moderate and pragmatic. And only then will democracy begin to take roots in the Middle East. For democracy does not grow on “what ought to exist” in a society. It rather grows on what actually exists.

I am speaking of experience, for we had a similar history here in Turkey. Turkey’s own pharaohdom, too, survived the end of the reign of its founding pharaoh. (Don’t ask me who the man was, for Turkey’s paharaoh-protecting blasphemy laws are still in practice.) In Turkey, too, the military and judiciary orchestrated coups by using the Islamists as their boogeymen. They, too, portrayed themselves as Turkey’s “progressive” forces, despite their draconian laws and torture chambers.

In the past decade, however, Turkey’s “Islamists” have been allowed to govern, and they have not done too badly. Turkey is still far from being a fully liberal democracy, but it has gone only better when compared with the 1990s. And the evolution of the Islamists has been possible, only because we have had a functioning multi-party democracy since the 1950s.

Egypt’s fragile democracy, therefore, must be protected at all costs and despite all the propaganda to the contrary. And the Egyptian democrats should not despair, for theirs is a cause which will ultimately win, sooner or later.

June/20/2012

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