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Egypt: There are no short cuts in democracy

There are no short cuts in democracy

By Jamal Kanj
February 7, 2013

Egypt is an experimental democracy in progress, but when the evolution of this process turns bloody it begs the question: is it worth it?

An Egyptian tourist guide who has lost his job, or a businessman affected by ongoing street violence, would probably respond with a resounding no.

This should be a wake-up call for current and aspiring political leaders.

It has been established that Mohamed Mursi became Egypt's first democratically elected president following a public uprising, with 13.23 million votes (51.73 per cent).

While Mursi was the Muslim Brotherhood's (MB) nominee, votes from across the political spectrum were crucial in defeating the old regime's candidate.

In fact, Mursi's victory was only possible thanks to votes cast by the same people protesting in the streets of Cairo today.

His victory belonged to those who toiled and laboured to end the dictatorship of former president Hosni Mubarak.

It was obvious to all - except perhaps the Muslim Brotherhood - that many of Mursi's votes were simply a rejection of the old system, rather than a vote of confidence in him as a candidate.

After promising during his campaign to seek a wide coalition to lead Egypt, he back-pedalled and instead opted to govern based on a narrow minded, ideological political party line.

There are umpteen occasions when Mursi has made poor choices, from his backing down from early promises to reach outside the MB hierarchy to his handling of a vote on the constitution. But should that disqualify him from serving his elected term? I say no.

Mursi's failure is typical of doctrinal, elected leaders endeavouring to satisfy their organised ideological base and the public at large. Trying to balance the two is impossible and they end up failing both constituencies.

I loathe quoting Winston Churchill, but he was right when he said democracy was not perfect. Voters have every right to change their opinion of officials they elect. But that right comes with an obligation to endure the results of the ballot box.

Other than impeachable constitutional violations, in an "imperfect" democracy elected officials must be ousted through a vote only - not street violence.

But the president must not turn into a mini-dictator. There should be adequate checks and balances in the legislative and judicial branches, as well as a free media, to collectively avert the slide into the abyss of a despotic system of government.

In chaotic settings subversive elements have better chance infiltrating protests and goading susceptible zealots into acts of destructive violence, while provoking cruelty by security forces.

In fact, an alleged Arabic-speaking Israeli spy posing as a protester was arrested in Cairo in 2011. Ilan Grapel was an ex-paratrooper who was injured in Southern Lebanon in August 2006. He used an American passport to enter Egypt shortly after the January 25 uprising and lied on his visa application, claiming to be Muslim. The alleged spy was accused of burning public buildings and after first denying culpability, the Israeli government agreed four months later to exchange Grapel with 25 imprisoned Egyptians.

There are no shortcuts in democracy and the ballot box is its best guarantee.

To violently force an elected official to step down sets a dangerous precedent.

Tolerating a one-term, despised, elected president is safer than unpredictable anarchy on the streets.


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