Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.
Like most, We initially expressed great disappointment after the ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2012. We feared that Egypt, in the nascence of its democratic experience, had set a disastrous precedent for its political culture; however, We do believe that there was no way to avoid what transpired on that significant day.
As the Economist puts it, “Majoritarianism - the credo of an expanding group of elected but autocratic rulers around the world, which holds that electoral might always makes you right—is not true democracy, even if, on the face of it, the two things look alike."
Yes – Morsi was democratically elected. To be specific, by 13 million votes. Democratic, right?
Well, it’s more complicated than that. 22 million people signed a petition started by the grassroots opposition movement Tamarod (“Rebellion” in Arabic) urging President Morsi to step down from the presidency – almost double the amount that voted him into office.
Which is truly the voice of the people? Being elected to office by a “majority” does not simultaneously create a just, democratic rule.
Perhaps no single event illustrates this best than in November of 2012, five months after Morsi was elected into office, when he gave himself sweeping new powers which placed him and his executive decrees/orders above judicial review and the constitutional court. As one Al Jazeera contributor put it, this was the only coup that happened in Egypt, and it was executed by Morsi.
There has never been a concrete definition for democracy. Throughout history, the characteristics of practiced democracy have been as varied as the regions of the world they were practiced in. However, the system of checks and balances has always gone hand in hand with democracy, from Ancient Greece to modern times. Morsi's decree made void any check or balance of power that may have previously existed.
Democracy is also categorized by civil freedoms, namely, freedom of religion and freedom of the press. More journalists were jailed under Morsi's one year tenure than under the ousted autocrat Hosni Mubarak's 30 year rule. Bassam Youssef, an Egyptian satirist who runs a show called al-Bernameg, which is often likened to Jon Stewart's "Daily Show," was arrested for allegedly insulting the president and Islam.
Can you imagine if Jon Stewart were jailed for criticizing President Obama?
(Unfortunately, restrictions on press seems to be a broader trend in the political culture of Egypt. Even the military, viewed widely as a secular institution, closed down various media and news outlets within Egypt promptly after Morsi’s ouster).
Our founding fathers were scared of what minorities would be subject to at the whim of the majority. Protection of minorities is so embedded in the democratic process that it is often overlooked, but it cannot be in the case of Egypt.
Morsi's hastily approved constitution (which many judges and elected officials boycotted to express their disapproval) only protects those belonging to "heavenly religions" to practice their religion publicly. There is no constitutional protection for Egypt’s Bahai minority. Even with the constitutional guarantee for Muslims and Christians, Egypt’s Coptic Christian community (approximately 10% of the population) and Shia minority face constant physical and mental intimidation and discrimination.
In recent weeks, the more extreme supporters of Morsi, self-dubbed as “supporters of legitimacy,” have called for the destruction and defacement of Coptic owned stores, homes, and churches. Many pro-Morsi supporters have heeded the call, with acts ranging from spray painting “Islamic” on Coptic properties, to dragging nuns through the streets, to burning churches. Copts, seen by many pro-Morsi supporters as one of the main coup-encouraging groups, have faced unprecedented violence since Morsi’s removal.
Upon entering office, Morsi banned the National Democratic Party – Hosni Mubarak’s party – from political practice. In a democracy, you cannot exclude your opponents from the political process. Even now as military leaders and the interim government arrest senior Muslim Brotherhood members and debate the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood and their political arm, The Freedom and Justice Party, the current violence is indicative of the following chaos that would undoubtedly overcome Egypt. Egypt’s path forward must be all inclusive – religious minorities, secularists, military leaders, ultra-conservative parties (such as Al-Nour), and the Muslim Brotherhood. A difficult feat indeed, but a necessary feat nonetheless. As history shows, when groups are excluded from the political process, there are violent and chaotic ramifications.
Living conditions - call it “the icing on the cake.” On top of political polarization, religious tension, and a yearning for civil freedoms, power outages are chronic, shortages of fuel are commonplace, and higher food prices have driven up Egypt’s inflation rate to a two year high. Robberies, kidnappings, and murders all dramatically increased during Morsi's one year tenure, yet nothing was done to build on the capacity of the police force as an institution. As it stands now, they are inadequate at best.
These concerns are shared amongst all Egyptians, regardless of political affiliation, and regardless of religion. The current war-like state on the streets of Egypt’s capitol will only worsen the pitiful living conditions in the land of the pyramids.
As the international community goes through the cliché process of holding press conferences “strongly condemning the violence in Egypt” and calling on “all parties in Egypt to come to the negotiating table for a peaceful dialogue,” it would do them well to bear in mind how lack of international involvement and support has played out in Syria.
There is an important distinction to note between politics stateside and politics abroad, a distinction that many of us take for granted.
Regardless of who is president of the US, though some may be loath to admit, our lives do not change that much, and that is the simple truth. Sure, you may pay a little more taxes or save more money, but your general welfare isn't threatened.
This is not the case for Egypt and much of the rest of the world. When elected officials change, their lives may change, for better or worse.