The headlines today from Egypt are stunning but not surprising. The removal of President Morsi from the office of the presidency by the military was signaled as soon as the 48 hour deadline was given. The military had tipped their hand by giving Morsi the opportunity to resign before they removed him by force.
As the first democratically elected president, his removal has left the world asking, “Is this the end of democracy in Egypt?” And the answer is “No”, these events do not clearly indicate the end of democracy in the Middle East. However they are an indication of how difficult the journey from corrupt oppressive systems to representative government can be. The movement in the Arab world to transition from autocratic family regimes will require tremendous effort from the Egyptians and the world is witnessing the voice of the “street” in the numbers of protesters that poured out to call for Morsi to step down.
The role of the military in these events is not ideal for democracy. But it is important for pundits, academicians, and so-called experts to climb down off their intellectual perches and listen to the realities of how the Egyptians are carving their future. It is a process fraught with mistakes and missteps. Morsi is a failed president who had no experience in traversing the political landmines that awaited him as the first democratically elected president. But his inexperience revealed incompetence and weakness in the face of pressures from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Morsi was elected to represent the nation state of Egypt. His movement toward the Muslim Brotherhood and his knack for alienating other constituencies in Egypt led to his failure. Morsi failed to negotiate important agreements with the military, the parliament, and the business leaders who had a vested interest in the success of Egypt’s future.
Egyptians, and all those in the Middle East are creating democratic governments in a day-to-day laboratory. It is not going to look like the western emergence of democracy, but that does not necessitate the end of democracy.
Democracy is first and foremost “demos” “kratos“ or people power. Democracy asks for government to serve the people. Egypt’s enormous populace makes direct democracy an impossible governing system. Thus representative democracy necessitates that elected officials govern. The large and politically active percentage of the Egyptian people did not assess Morsi as capable of representing them. The political activism and public protest witnessed in Egyptians cities without threat of torture, imprisonment or worse was democracy in action. While his removal is an affront to the constitutional basis of an elected president, the people in the street are exercising their demand that the Egyptian president evidence the leadership that will bring their country to a better day. Morsi did not evidence any thing in his speech a day before the year anniversary to give the Egyptian people a new sense of confidence and thus he signed his own removal by default.
The temptation is to over-interpret the crisis in Egypt on July 3, 2013 too early. The military did not establish a general as the interim president; instead Mansour the Chief Justice of the Constitution Court was announced as the interim president. This is a good sign. But the pressure is on. The pressure is on for Egypt to find its footing on this democratic path after the removal of Morsi. It is up to the people to hold the military accountable to ensure that new elections are held soon. It is essential that the amendments to the Egyptian Constitution are undertaken immediately.
Democracy can withstand these dramatic events. Hopefully this is a course correction for Egypt. But the reality is that democracy is really hard. Representing people of a nation state requires far more than a sense of religious authority or sectarian ideology. The Muslim Brotherhood are surely smarting after today’s events, but it is time that the Brotherhood face life after Mubarak as Egyptians not as theocratic idealists. Running the affairs of a state requires much more than oppositional ideas, it requires a bigger vision and a better road map. The events of today are not a failure of democracy but are instead a failure of the Muslim Brotherhood. They won a year ago with a “bread and butter” agenda, however they lost sight of the voters and became more concerned with shepherding their own agenda. It equaled FAILURE.
It is now time to address the economic plight of Egypt before it descends any further. It is time to stabilize the government with a representative capable of gaining the confidence of the people. It is time to make Egypt safe enough for tourists to return to support the myriad jobs that depend on the tourist industry. Rocky days ahead, but the pressure may yet usher a new democratic day.
The next steps taken in coming weeks and months will set the foundation for Egypt in the post Arab Spring world. Deeper reform and a more consolidated vision for the future of Egypt are necessary in order to preserve any sense of stability as this story unfolds. Egypt will need the support of its democratic partners at this critical moment. Democracy is not inherently incompatible with Egypt, the Arab States or even Islam. But the struggle between the Islamists’ and the reformers will be at the heart of the battle for the future of Egypt. The pressure is on.
(See my comment below written later on July 3, 2013)