Thursday, July 4, 2013

Democracy Loses in Egypt and Beyond

by Noah Feldman


July 4, 2013

The framers of the U.S. Constitution feared that democracy could devolve into rule of the mob. Events in Egypt are a reminder of why that concern was justified. Essentially the same pro-democracy activists who enabled Hosni Mubarak to be removed from power in February 2011 have now done the same to his democratically elected successor, Mohamed Mursi. In both cases it was the protesters who made the government vulnerable. And in both cases it was the army that delivered the coup de grace in the form of a coup d’etat.

Even acknowledging that Mursi and his Muslim Brotherhood-backed party did a poor job over their year in power, failing to win over opponents or broaden their base of support, the latest coup is a tragic setback for democracy, constitutionalism and the rule of law. The first protests of the Arab Spring were calls to replace a dictator who had no democratic right to govern. The protests were inspiring not just because they said “enough” to a bad system, but also because the protesters aspired to replace that bad system with democracy. Many of the original protesters were themselves secular or wanted a secular government. But by calling for free elections, they opened themselves to the possibility that the majority of Egyptians wouldn’t agree with them. That, in essence, is democracy: The majority gets to choose the government it wishes, subject to the guarantee of minority rights.