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Lessons from Egypt

July 12, 2013

Before I begin, I must say that my information on the situation in Egypt comes from a variety of sources.  It’s only my impression.  I’m generalizing, probably too much.  I certainly could be wrong in some of the details.

First, these are the principal players in this real-life drama.  The Mubarak government had been in place for some time.  It was an autocracy, one that suppressed the main opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood.  This government was overthrown in the first revolution.

The Muslim Brotherhood was generally composed of islamists.  They wanted a theocracy and were opposed to democracy, expecting instead to be acclaimed into power.  They were also the best organized political group.  When Mubarak was deposed, they formed a political party for the coming election.  This party, headed by Morsi, had popular support.  It opposed re-election of members of the Mubarak regime.

There were many other opposition parties who also contested this election.  They were opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood.  They were also newly-formed and poorly organized.  Their popularity varied by region and by ideology.

The Egyptian military was a major player.  It is supported by US funds.  It’s a secular body, similar in that sense to the military in Turkey.  The Military claims that it does not want political power.

There’s also the judiciary.  They have a long history of independance from political forces.  Although they still proclaim that principle, many of the judges were appointed by the Mubarak regime.

Events in Egypt have happened in rapid succession since the Mubarak government was overthrown in the demonstrations that preceeded the first revolution.  The Muslim Brotherhood party won a majority in the election that ensued.  It was one year into a four-year term when the second revolution came along.  This too started as a demonstration against the government, Morsi’s government this time.  Morsi was ousted by the military.  They also jailed other Muslim Brotherhood leaders.  The demonstrations became violent.  People were killed.  The military has promised another set of free elections, although what that means is still unclear.

There are other factors to consider too.  Egypt has no tradition of democracy and no democratic institutions.  Perhaps because of this, they have another revolution.  Revolutions are always messy affairs, taking time to evolve and to resolve themselves.  Economic woes have to be a priority of any Egyptian leader.  Egypt also has international obligations, especially to neighboring countries.

How can this sort of change be accomodated in an established democracy?  I heard about a recent poll in Canada, shortly after the last federal election.  It attempted to discover why people had voted in the way they did.  According to this poll, they gave gave the Harper conservatives a majority because they wanted him to fix the economy.  The poll also claimed that voters reserved the right to change their mind.  I chuckled when I heard that; how can changing their mind have any effect?

In this sort of situation, the government is part way through their term.  They have a mandate.  Now, many people are distressed with what they are doing.  They can’t use violence in a democracy.  What can they do?  The next election is several years away.  Do they gripe an bear it?  That would be too long to wait.

How about a referendum?  Is there a mechanism to hold one?  Will the results be accepted by the government?  Maybe polls are all they need.  Governments to pay attention to polls.  The dissenting group would need a respected organization to sponsor and conduct a poll.  It could be effective.

The official method is talking to local representatives.  They should, in turn, be able to convey your concerns to the government.  That might induce them to change.  Of course, the representative might be unwilling or unable to do anything.  Still, this is worth trying.  Good communication, two-way communication, is supposed to be the foundation of democracy.

What about demonstrations?  They do get on TV.  They do provide a voice for the people, at least for the people who are demonstrating.  Do the demonstrators represent the majority?  How can we know that?  How can we prove that?  Clearly they are not as good as an election, or even a poll.  The same difficulty arises when a group decides to publish their information.  Does this influence the public or the government?  Do they just dismiss the group as having an ulterior motive?

What can we do when our government’s at mid-term?  Do we just gripe and bear it until the next election?

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