Skip to comments.Elections Are Not Democracy - A lesson from Egypt. (Andrew C. McCarthy)
Posted on 07/06/2013 3:58:03 PM PDT by neverdem
The democracy fetish would be worth having if it were about promoting real democracy. Instead, as illustrated by media coverage of the military coup that ousted Egypts popularly elected Muslim Brotherhood president, were still confusing democratic legitimacy with legitimate democracy.
The latter is real a culture of liberty that safeguards minority rights. Attaining it is a worthy aspiration, but one that requires years of patient, disciplined, and often unpopular work. The former is an illusion the pretense that if a Muslim country holds popular elections and elects totalitarian Islamists, voila, it has a democracy, and progressives the world over will regard it as such.
The confusion is nowhere better illustrated than in neoconservative commentary, where two most admirable premises the transcendent power of freedom and the imperative of confronting evil are seemingly at war with each other. Thus do the Wall Street Journals editors recount the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhoods Mohamed Morsi, elected Egypts president just a year ago, in the flush of Spring Fever:
His election was the best feature of his rule, which had descended into incompetence and creeping authoritarianism. Mr. Morsi won the election narrowly over a Mubarak-era political leftover, but he soon reinforced fears that the Brotherhood would use its new power to build an Islamist dictatorship. He tried to claim near-absolute powers by decree to force through a draft constitution written by Islamists and boycotted by everyone else.
No, not exactly.
Doesnt that sound a lot like the Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature? Remember: They lacked the votes to defeat Governor Scott Walkers collective-bargaining reform, so they tried to derail it by boycotting the democratic process an act of sabotage the Journals editors rightly rebuked. But theres a huge difference. Lacking Wisconsins democratic culture, Egypts ostensibly democratic process was a farce. Thats why Egypts obstructive democrats were heroes, while Wisconsins obstructive Democrats were rogues.
Democratic processes elections, referenda, constitution-drafting must be conditioned on a preexisting democratic culture. Otherwise, in a majority-Muslim country like Egypt, you end up giving totalitarianism the patina of democratic legitimacy. Quite predictably, when Morsi put the draft constitution to a countrywide democratic vote, the vast majority of Egyptians used their self-determining liberty to enshrine liberty-devouring sharia as their fundamental law.
The cognitive dissonance is dizzying. Yes, as the Journals editors note, Morsi was narrowly elected over Ahmed Shafiq, a Mubarak-era holdover. But why was that? It was because the forces of true, pluralistic democracy in Egypt are so fledgling and weak that they could never have defeated Islamic supremacists on their own. They had to turn to the old regime.
In the free elections leading up to Morsis election, there was no greater ignominy than being a Mubarak holdover. In those elections, real democrats and progressives were thrashed by Islamic supremacists. They lost 78 percent to 22 percent in a referendum on constitutional amendments that allowed the parliamentary and presidential elections to go forward. They were swamped again in the parliamentary elections that gave Islamic supremacists a three-to-one hammerlock on the legislature and thus on the constituent assembly that wrote the new constitution.
By the time the presidential election came round, authentic democrats, including members of persecuted religious minorities, had no choice but to pin their hopes on a Mubarak holdover just as this week, they had to rely on a coup by a military still threaded with Mubarak holdovers. It was the only realistic chance they had at a semblance of the rights that true democracy implies.
They lost anyway, even though the transitional military rulers, in a most undemocratic maneuver, tried to stack the deck in their favor by disqualifying on bogus grounds the more popular Muslim Brotherhood figure, Khairat al-Shater. The comparatively unknown Morsi was supremacist Islams Plan B. But we are talking about Egypt, where Western democracy is unabashedly condemned by such figures as Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the revered sharia jurist. In that Egypt the Egypt that is Plan B was good enough to win.
Morsis democratic logic was bulletproof: His actions were sovereign because he was elected by the people; the constituent assembly warranted sovereign protection because it had been appointed by a parliament elected by the people; and the old-regime judges should butt out because the draft constitution would be submitted to the sovereign people, to decide for themselves in an up-or-down vote. If you accept the Arab Spring fantasy that a liberty culture is bred by free elections, then Morsi was using his power to protect Egyptian democracy.
Of course, we should not accept the Arab Spring fantasy. But that does not make the Journals editors wrong just rash. They want what we should all want: a truly democratic Middle East. But lets not kid ourselves it is going to take a very long time to get there.
Core neoconservative principles are not really at odds. The power of freedom is transcendent. But real freedom cannot be rushed. Democratic culture has to take root, which is a long-term project in an anti-democratic society. As a foundational matter, there must be abiding societal commitments to freedom of conscience, the equal dignity of every person, economic liberty, the rule of law, and self-determination irrespective of sharia. Only then will liberty be promoted by free elections they are the end of the evolution, not the beginning.
We disfavor military coups because we are a liberty-loving people who defend civil rights. In Egypt, at this stage of its development, liberty lovers remain outnumbered. The massive protests against the Muslim Brotherhood administration are an encouraging sign that Egypts democrats are growing in strength, but they should not be mistaken for a wholesale rejection of sharia supremacism. Right now, the authentically democratic ranks remain modest; bear in mind that it was only seven months ago that the sharia constitution was overwhelmingly approved. At this point, a military coup and an enlightened military leadership that maintains order while giving civil society the time and space to evolve is the only chance freedom has. It is by no means certain that Egypts military is up to this daunting task, but it remains the best hope.
The neocons have also always been right that evil must be confronted and defeated. Yet that cannot happen unless evil is recognized as such. We must not rationalize Islamic supremacism and its sharia system as something they are not as virtuous, or at least moderate just because, given the choice, Islamic societies will vote for them. Egypts real democrats are trying to tell us that there are no moderate totalitarians. We would do well to listen.
Andrew C. McCarthy is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute. He is the author, most recently, of Spring Fever: The Illusion of Islamic Democracy.
Democracy without civil rights is two wolves and sheep deciding on what they are going to eat for dinner.
Remember - the Nazis also won the popular vote.
The quality of any democracy will never exceed the quality of the press. Egypt never had a chance.
That is an excellent point. I would submint the success of the US experiement can be largely attributed to the moral constraints of Christianity evident in many of our Founders and early leaders, and a determination to properly educate the masses during that same time. As both have declined, we lurch towards the tyranny and tribalism that you see in the rest of the world. America has in the past treasured liberty, which protects the most vulnerable minority - the individual. Does anyone really believe any religious or secular minority will be free in Egypt with islam in power, or influencing leaders in that country?
McCarthy is good columnist. This column was awful.
Simply put, the Egyptian people are expected to legitimize their tyrants with elections.
I couldn’t agree more. It is our present culture that is our downfall...not the resulting leaders that are elected. Yuri Bezmanov pointed out that after America there is nowhere else to go.
McCarthy’s points are sound, except for one fundamental point: the whole idea the limited government in which the rights of minorities are respected is coextensive with democracy in which popular sovereignty is the decisive feature.
The attempt to make democracy coextensive with limited government is an example of the No True Scotsman fallacy. Democracy is popular sovereignty, period.
One can have limited government in which minority rights are respected even under a theoretically absolute monarchy — Russians use phrases like “when we were free under the Tsars,” thinking of the time after the abolition of serfdom, because unless one publicly attacked the Tsar (or the office of Tsar) or the Church, or had the misfortune to do so privately in the presence of one of the few hundred secret police deployed exclusively in Moscow and St. Petersburg, or committed crimes of the sort universally condemned by all governments and in all societies, basically the Tsarist government left you alone — and as we see in the contrast between pre- and post-17th Amendment America, popular sovereignty is actually a very poor tool for limiting the scope and reach of government.
Exporting “democracy” is a Wilsonian project, and thus part of the baleful legacy of Progressivism. America is the “shining city on the hill” (now tarnished by Progressivism) not because we are democratic, but because we are (were) the first and greatest exemplar of limited government. Admittedly, one needs some democratic elements in a constitution to have reliably limited government (the Christian Emperor who takes his coronation oath seriously and therefore provides limited, freedom-respecting government may go mad or be replaced by one who does not and reigns as a tyrant), but those democratic elements should not be seen as the primary source of limits on government.
They're missing a central point. What distinguishes a culture of liberty is not different human nature in such countries - human nature is a constant - it's the rule of law. What they're describing as 'legitimate democracy' is, in fact, the outcome of a constitutional republic in which the Constitution is the supreme law of the land and followed to the letter.
I accept the Constitution as written, in almost the same spirit as I accept the Bible as written. If God wanted to change the rules, we already know what He would do - He would send someone to add to His Word. If a democracy really wanted to change the rules, it would approve a constitutional amendment through the proper procedure.
The liberals who say we can safely change the interpretation of the Constitution to insert gay "marriage" or abortion in the penumbra are just as destructively wrong as the liberals who say we can safely change the interpretation of the Bible to insert similar sick positions. Such insertions destroy the document and remove all meaning.
Remember the warning of the great Jeanne Kirkpatrick on elections to be wary of: “One man, One vote, One time.”
“Simply put, the Egyptian people are expected to legitimize their tyrants with elections.”
Let’s correct the above sentence:
“Simply put, the American people are expected to legitimize their tyrants with elections”, which is what we did last election.
Gosh, that way of thinking sounds familiar....
Actually, elections ARE democracy - which is why our Founders abhorred it.
America’s value is Freedom.
Democracy is merely the illegal immigrant that made it past the Founders’ fence - The Constitution.
“Democracy without civil rights is two wolves and sheep deciding on what they are going to eat for dinner.
Remember - the Nazis also won the popular vote.”
I like to point out to people that if we had a pure democracy, African-Americans and Jews would have been deported to Africa and Palestine respectively in the 1930’s, because the majority of Americans thought that this was a good idea, according to polls taken at the time. Of course, had they had their way, I would be writing this in German now, if at all.
“I disagree with Andrew’s take on real democracy. Marxism is real democracy. What he calls good democracy is actually a Republic.”
Agreed-the US does not and never did have a democracy. This is a democratic republic, which, of course, is slipping away.
Dictators love democratic votes—as long as they are: One man, one vote, one time—and then they are in power for life.
“Remember - the Nazis also won the popular vote.”
Actually, no, they didn’t. They achieved only a plurality. Their greatest vote total, in the last election held under Nazi government, was about 44% in March of 1933.
Elections very much ARE democracy. It is just that Democracy is a means suitable to a Judeo Christian based culture or some very small tribal milieux It does not produce results that we would recognize as “democratic” in other environments.
That, of course, doesn’t matter to the conscientious Liberal. For him in other cultures the Process is everything, the result is trivial.
This is the most chaotic, poorly organized and irrational article I have ever seen from Andrew McCarthy. I disagree with him on a lot of things, but I always thought he was capable of writing a coherent article.
This one made no sense.