Egypt and democracy

Egypt’s Arab Spring was considered the  shortest and least costly mode for bringing  democracy in the Arab world.

At one time, there were much jubilations and celebrations with the fall of Hosni Mubarak. The people in Egypt, much of the Arab world, the Muslim world and in fact all over the world, had high expectation of Arab Springs. Egypt would  then be a showcase of democracy in the Arab world.

A referendum was held on the newly established constitution, while  fair and just  elections were held in accordance to the democratic rules. Mohamed Mursi from the Muslim Brotherhood Party won and became the elected president of Egypt. The Islamic agenda or rather the focus on Islamic way of live of the Muslim Brotherhood Party proved divisive, and alienated many people, particularly the urban middle class and minority Christian. But from the Muslim Brotherhood members perspective, they have won the elections squarely, and in a democratic system surely they have the mandate to rule.

Many among the liberals and educated urban middle class who have been the champion of freedom and democracy could not tolerate these Islamists. The call for regime change became louder when they knew that could not topple Morsi through the constitutional means of the democratic system. They appealed for the comeback by the army into politics. They gave all sorts reasons as to why President Morsi must be deposed  and that  a military coup would be legitimate. Well their wishes were granted when  the military staged a coup and took back power to rule the country. Morsi’s democratic rule lasted just over a year. What a farce!

The coup obviously triggered strong protests from Mursi supporters. Still no one would imagine the military would act brutally against the civilians. After all in this twenty first century, none of the dictators, including Mubarak would dare to use the military to defy world opinion. On 14 August the crackdown by the military to clear Mursi supporters camping at various squares in Cairo caused deadly conflicts which later spread to many parts of the country. The official figure was 278 people died, but sources from the Muslim Brotherhood claimed 20 times the figure! (Note: the Western media exaggerated Chinse casualty during the Tian An Men incidence, while in the case of Egypt, they conveniently quote the much lower government casualty figure ).

It is interesting to note that the caretaker Prime Minister claimed that the security forces maintained maximum restraint, did not use live bullets, and had been ordered not to shoot when clearing the protest sites. Instead, he claimed it was the Mursi supporters that started the shootings and that large cache of weapons were seized at the scenes. And there were emphasis on police casualty figure.

The brutal suppression of Mursi supporters shocked the world. Western politicians condemned the loss of lives, but then nothing happened. No one called for the removal  or sanction against the blood-stained generals.  Meanwhile the USA secretary of state John Kerry failed to condemn the massacre at a press conference, saying it was merely “tragic” and expressed his worry that violent actions would create more instabilities. The US proclaimed that it might cancel the joint military exercise. This kid glove treatment  is in big contrast to the way US handled the Syrian unrest.

Western media reports seems to portray  most Egyptians intellectuals (even those who support the military coup) as strong believer of democracy, that democracy will thrive there. But the democracy that is brought by the Arab Spring has exacted a very high cost to the country, in terms of the lives and the economic well being of the people. Apparently none  think that their democracy might just be a mirage;  on the contrary they believe that the path of democracy lead to an awaiting paradise . This is not unlike religious belief.

But can the spirit of democracy really endures in poor over-populated country ?  Well, the experiment has already failed  with the ousting of Mursi by a military coup and the brutal crackdown on protesters. And with the economy  getting from bad to worst, and  the ordinary  people can hardly afford to eat bread without donations from  richer  Arabs countries, things are getting tougher for whoever is in power. There is no easy solution. Egypt will be in further turmoil as there is just too much blood being spilled on the streets of Cairo. And the relatives, friends and sympathisers of the thousands Mursi supporters killed are unlikely to stay passive. It will be difficult to break the cycle of violent, just like in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and Libya.

People really need to reflect on the idea of democracy in developing countries like Egypt ! Without stability and good governance, I am afraid democracy is nothing but empty slogan. This just remind me of a recent talk by Eric Li in the TED lecture, when he reminded the audience that many people (usually the intellectuals)  in the previous century were fascinated and hoodwinked by the ideals of communism. Nowadays, it is  the turn of Capitalism and Democracy!



About kchew

an occasional culturalist
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