Egypt’s democrats face long struggle

Egypt’s democrats face long struggle

All eyes were turned to Egypt after the Arab Spring, since that country was considered to be the one most likely to move to a semblance of true democracy after toppling its dictator. It was, after all, a country with a history of political reforms that stretches back to the “Tanzimat period” of modernization under Ottoman rule.

That experience has given Egypt more established institutions than other countries in the region, a more vibrant media, and certainly a much livelier cultural environment than most Arab states. This was a major reason why expectations were high after Hosni Mubarak was toppled, with many assuming that democracy would not be long in coming to this key Middle Eastern country.

It is true, of course, that Egypt went through a democratic process that produced a victory for the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more fundamentalist Salafists, as well bringing Morsi to power. The rule of President Mohamed Morsi, however, is turning out to be a great disappointment for those Egyptians who have been clamoring for true democracy for decades.

I have written here before that democracy is not what Islamists; Turkish, Egyptian, or otherwise, appear to think it is. In other words, turning the remark uttered by Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his political prime, before he became Prime Minister, on its head, we can say for sure that democracy is not a train that merely takes you to your political or ideological destination.

Put another way, democracy is not the system of government that amounts to a dictatorship of the majority, at the exclusion of the rights of minorities or the rights of those who did not vote for you. The proof of true democracy is how the political, civic and human rights of minorities and those who did not vote for you are protected.

Neither is true democracy a system where the party that happens to have been elected can use “the power of numbers” to tamper with the existing democratic order, or to establish a specific ideologically motivated brand of democracy, which is not in fact true democracy.

The way Morsi is behaving in Egypt, however, one has little choice except to believe that democracy for him is indeed a train that is merely taking him and his Islamist supporters to their destination. Much has been written about the manner in which he gave himself powers – which exceed the powers that Mubarak had – ostensibly to “protect the revolution.”

In addition to this, he also rushed the new Constitution, drafted almost exclusively by Islamists, through Parliament and a flash referendum, getting it accepted by using the advantage of a low turn out, with many Egyptians not to bothering to vote for a draft they did not believe in.

The recent hounding by Morsi of those who are critical of his policies in the media, the arts world, and the entertainment sector, clearly shows that his Islamist agenda - mixed in with his personal political ambitions - are more important for him than working for the stability that is necessary for the country to move on economically, which would be to the benefit of all Egyptians.

What makes his behavior even worse, however, is that he does not appear to understand that he is moving towards a dead-end with his blatantly Islamist agenda, because the issue for Egyptians is not Islam. My personal experience of Egyptians is that they are a very devout nation anyway, be they Islamist or seculars.

Morsi today heads a country with a population of nearly 83 million people. This requires a working economy and stable growth rates if social turmoil is to be avoided. Put another way, people need jobs, schools and hospitals. Farmers need support, as does industry.

Not considering all of this and pushing instead for an Islamic agenda, which is as authoritarian as the Mubarak regime was, will only spell disaster for Egypt in the medium turn.

Put another way, Egypt’s true democrats still have a long struggle ahead of them.