The question of democracy in Egypt
The 2011 revolution heralded a new era for Egypt – an era of democracy. The prospects were bright as Mohamed Morsi became the first democratically elected president in June 2012. And yet, exactly a year later, another of several protests containing tens of thousands of people broke out against him leading to his removal from power by the military. This removal ignored the democratic means by which he had been elected and formed an unelected government; it seemed as if Egypt was back to square one.
In a country with a democratically elected government, it is through free and fair elections that the people can express their opinions about the leader of the country. However, many Egyptians did not wait for the next election, but simply attempted to remove him there and then. Is this the tyranny of the majority or a very direct form of democracy? Or perhaps, in a country with a limited history of democracy the stormy period we have observed is an understandable consequence? Morsi, in fairness, was not the most democratic leader. His election alone did not grant him legitimacy to do whatever he wanted, and so his decision in 2012 to grant himself immunity from judicial oversight understandably sparked protests. It is important for the public to have the ability to forcibly and directly remove a leader if he, for example, becomes excessively tyrannical without having to wait years under oppressive rule to legitimately remove him. Nonetheless, it is still the case that elections are the most legitimate way for people to hold the government to account and so the aim ought to have been to change policy or hold another election rather than simply remove the leader.
It seems regressive that the army were the ones taking the control in the name of the people. They were representing the people, almost in the sense that elected leaders in a representative democracy do. Surely a representative democracy would then be preferable? The military is now not removable by democratic means and would be difficult to remove by force as they had been the ones with enough power to stage a coup in the first place. The problem that the people did not like what the government was doing is exactly the type of problem that democracy should be there to solve. This is not to mention the links that the army have to Mubarak, effectively reversing the achievements of the 2011 revolution and causing speculation that the army will continue to hold onto power undemocratically as was the case the last time they held a coup. Perhaps since the revolution, however, this thirst for democracy will mean that the people will demand more vehemently free and fair elections as have been planned for 2014.
There is still the problem of the parties in the elections; for example if power is handed to a party where democracy is not the priority, then Egypt will simply be repeating history. The National Salvation Front is one of the frontrunners for the election, and is the more explicitly democratic option but does not have widespread support. And while least 6 in 10 Egyptians consider democracy to be the best form of government, about 6 in 10 also want the country’s rulings to strictly follow the Qu’ran’s teachings. The Islamist parties, then, seem to be the direction in which the electorate is headed. In this case, the future of democracy is foggy. However, opinion polls in Egypt have been notoriously unsuccessful in predicting the outcomes of elections in the past, as occurred in 2012.
With a constitutional declaration of an election in early 2014, we can only hope that the possibility of democracy is not completely lost. Unfortunately, given the events that have already unfolded, it is impossible to tell the future of Egypt and whether the elections will be as fair and free as they should or even whether they will take place at all.