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About Democracy in Egypt

Reader comment on item: Why Egypt Will Not Soon Become Democratic

Submitted by Rafi Laufert (Israel), Feb 11, 2011 at 07:25

In the democratic, wealthy and satiated West, it is customary to think that democracy is an asset – if not completely then at least partially. The West and Prof. Ehteshami as well, forget that in order to have democracy in Egypt, it is not enough to have among its' citizens hunger, unemployment and disappointment from the present regime. These citizens are seeking rapid and meaningful change in their day to day lives rather than structural political turmoil.

Acting democracy dictates a social structure that understands its mechanisms and their functions; a structure that understands democracy's philosophical foundations and agrees with them; one that has the education, the mental and technological tools enabling it to cope with democracy's ugly face i.e. manipulative media (if there is freedom of the press) and economic liberalism (without which, as far as one can see, the poor will stay poor, the rich will get richer and the gaps between the two will deepen.) Churchill who was a sarcastic humorist said once:" The best argument against democracy is a five-minute-long conversation with the average voter".

In a country like Egypt where over 60% of the population participating in political life is practically speaking illiterate, the prerequisites of toleration and economic and cultural globalization are not in existence. There is in Egypt an educated young generation and a social elite suitable for the absorption and activation of democratic systems, but for pluralistic democracy in a country of 82 million people, this is not enough.

The various starting points, (as far as levels of suitability for democracy are concerned, of an advanced urban minority vis-à-vis rural or peripheral majority living in a completely different world with different terminology), threaten the existing situation foreboding destruction of it. Even if there is total agreement on the immediate objectives, the points of view will rapidly change once the political struggles start concerning controlling governmental positions, organizational structures and the new power centers that will rise when existing ones are done away with.

Two central forces with sectorial interests operate beside the conceptual, educational and economic uncertainties. The first is the army and the second is the extreme Islamic organizations at the heads of which are the Moslem Brothers. These organizations will constantly search for a way to maintain their status and the ability to make national decisions. If they are pushed back from their traditional positions of power they will react violently.

The heterogeneous public will sense that it is being deceived long after the organizations sectors will, and consequently will react only after some time has elapsed and with less effective means. Therefore, democratization in Egypt, today, is an accepted or tolerated slogan, but no more than that. There is a chance that this slogan will, in the future, become a political reality, but the process leading to it has to be gradual and cautious since the determining factor is ascertaining the feeling of the majority of the populace that there is improvement of its conditions, that its hopes are met and aspirations are being fulfilled by the changes taking place in Egypt.

A concrete change is required - one which the western democratic world can provide if it is mobilized to assist Egypt economically without damaging its esteem, its regional status and the interests of the ruling elite nor those of the ruling organized sectors. But the democratic West usually uses extensive rhetoric instead of a concrete help, where concrete help means giving up some of its eye blinding wealth.

Egypt is a key state in the region. If it crystallizes into a true democracy with the help of the western world, it will strengthen the moderate Islamic groups. If, on the other hand, it will be pushed too quickly towards unfounded utopist declarations, the crowd's disenchantment might push the country towards the extreme Islamic groups and sharpen the phenomena of "Clash of Civilizations" that Huntington spoke of.

In addition to all that was said, one must not forget Iran, the extreme Islamic force with Imperialistic aspirations, atomic plans and subversive well-trained organizations – scattered all over the region. These forces in the region will most certainly not remain idle; neither will the "arms" of the octopus called El-Keida.

Consequently, optimism is a positive attribute; an utopist-opportunistic optimism is a negative one especially in Egypt's case. Whoever speaks of a "Western type" democratic Egypt within a year, possesses the latter trait; I do not see myself as one.

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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