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Elections Are Not Democracy - A lesson from Egypt. (Andrew C. McCarthy)
National Review Online ^ | July 6, 2013 | 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 Egypt’s popularly elected Muslim Brotherhood president, we’re 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 Journal’s editors recount the rise and fall of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi, elected Egypt’s 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.

Morsi did not “force through a draft constitution.” He submitted a proposed constitution to a popular election — the same process that the Journal maintains was “the best feature” of Morsi’s rule. In that popular election, the constitution drafted by Islamists was approved by a whopping two-thirds of Egyptians — a fact conveniently omitted by the Journal’s editors. The constitution was not “boycotted by everyone else.” The constituent assembly was boycotted by non-Islamists when they realized they did not have the numbers to stop sharia supremacists.

Doesn’t that sound a lot like the Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature? Remember: They lacked the votes to defeat Governor Scott Walker’s collective-bargaining reform, so they tried to derail it by boycotting the democratic process — an act of sabotage the Journal’s editors’ rightly rebuked. But there’s a huge difference. Lacking Wisconsin’s democratic culture, Egypt’s ostensibly democratic process was a farce. That’s why Egypt’s obstructive democrats were heroes, while Wisconsin’s 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 Journal’s 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 Morsi’s 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 Islam’s 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.

The Journal’s editors again tell only half the story in observing that Morsi “tried to claim near-absolute powers by decree” in order to get the sharia constitution implemented. If you buy the notion that free elections always herald real democracy, you would have applauded Morsi. He decreed that his “sovereign acts” were unreviewable by the unelected judiciary — stacked with relics of the Mubarak dictatorship — specifically to protect the constituent assembly, which that judiciary was threatening to dissolve before it could complete its work.

Morsi’s “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 Journal’s editors wrong — just rash. They want what we should all want: a truly democratic Middle East. But let’s 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 Egypt’s 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 Egypt’s 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. Egypt’s 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.


TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Editorial; Foreign Affairs; Politics/Elections
KEYWORDS: andymccarthy; egypt; egyptcoup; egyptelection; islam; morsi

1 posted on 07/06/2013 3:58:03 PM PDT by neverdem
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To: neverdem

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.


2 posted on 07/06/2013 4:03:03 PM PDT by 2banana (My common ground with terrorists - they want to die for islam and we want to kill them)
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To: neverdem

The quality of any democracy will never exceed the quality of the press. Egypt never had a chance.


3 posted on 07/06/2013 4:07:45 PM PDT by aimhigh (Guns do not kill people. Abortion kills people.)
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To: neverdem
"...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."

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?

4 posted on 07/06/2013 4:23:22 PM PDT by Kandy Atz ("Were we directed from Washington when to sow and when to reap, we should soon want for bread.")
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To: neverdem
I counted variations of “democracy” thirty four times. Zero count for republican and federal.

McCarthy is good columnist. This column was awful.

Simply put, the Egyptian people are expected to legitimize their tyrants with elections.

Sound familiar?

5 posted on 07/06/2013 4:23:37 PM PDT by Jacquerie (To restore the 10th Amendment, repeal the 17th.)
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To: Kandy Atz

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.


6 posted on 07/06/2013 4:26:05 PM PDT by gorush (History repeats itself because human nature is static)
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To: neverdem

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.


7 posted on 07/06/2013 4:28:34 PM PDT by The_Reader_David (And when they behead your own people in the wars which are to come, then you will know...)
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To: neverdem
we’re still confusing democratic legitimacy with legitimate democracy. The latter is real — a culture of liberty that safeguards minority rights

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.

8 posted on 07/06/2013 4:28:52 PM PDT by Pollster1 ("Shall not be infringed" is unambiguous.)
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To: neverdem

Remember the warning of the great Jeanne Kirkpatrick on elections to be wary of: “One man, One vote, One time.”


9 posted on 07/06/2013 4:30:38 PM PDT by xkaydet65
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To: Jacquerie

“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.


10 posted on 07/06/2013 4:51:38 PM PDT by flaglady47 (When the gov't fears the people, liberty; When the people fear the gov't, tyranny.)
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To: neverdem
Morsi’s “democratic” logic was bulletproof: His actions were “sovereign” because he was elected by the people;

Gosh, that way of thinking sounds familiar....

11 posted on 07/06/2013 5:06:29 PM PDT by BenLurkin (This is not a statement of fact. It is either opinion or satire; or both.)
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To: neverdem

Actually, elections ARE democracy - which is why our Founders abhorred it.


12 posted on 07/06/2013 5:09:34 PM PDT by Jim Noble (When strong, avoid them. Attack their weaknesses. Emerge to their surprise.)
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To: neverdem

America’s value is Freedom.

Democracy is merely the illegal immigrant that made it past the Founders’ fence - The Constitution.


13 posted on 07/06/2013 5:09:41 PM PDT by BuddhaBrown (Path to enlightenment: Four right turns, then go straight until you see the Light!)
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To: 2banana

“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.


14 posted on 07/06/2013 5:20:31 PM PDT by The Antiyuppie ("When small men cast long shadows, then it is very late in the day.")
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To: neverdem
I disagree with Andrew's take on “real democracy”. Marxism is real democracy. What he calls “good democracy” is actually a Republic, where the dictatorship of the proletariat is restricted in the powers it can wield. Unfettered rule by the majority faction will always result in the oppression of the minority.
15 posted on 07/06/2013 5:31:54 PM PDT by ArmstedFragg (hoaxy dopey changey)
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To: ArmstedFragg

“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.


16 posted on 07/06/2013 5:40:14 PM PDT by The Antiyuppie ("When small men cast long shadows, then it is very late in the day.")
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To: neverdem

Dictators love democratic votes—as long as they are: One man, one vote, one time—and then they are in power for life.


17 posted on 07/06/2013 6:22:33 PM PDT by wildbill
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To: 2banana

“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.


18 posted on 07/06/2013 6:32:05 PM PDT by Belteshazzar (We are not justified by our works but by faith - De Jacob et vita beata 2 +Ambrose of Milan)
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To: neverdem

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.


19 posted on 07/06/2013 6:52:24 PM PDT by arthurus (Read Hazlitt's Economics In One Lesson ONLINE http://steshaw.org/econohttp://www.fee.org/library/det)
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To: neverdem

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.


20 posted on 07/06/2013 7:02:03 PM PDT by livius
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To: flaglady47

“Simply put, the American people are expected to legitimize their tyrants with elections”, which is what we did last election.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Didn’t OBOZO tell his ‘hand picked’ government in Egypt they must listen to the ‘will of the people’?

Does than mean that if we could ‘muster up’ 30 or 40 million people to PEACEFULLY march on 1600 PA AVE he would abdicate the throne?

Of course, the press being what it is, we would have to gather 100 million people to get the Liberal Media to acknowledge ‘we’ had 30 million present.

‘Calypso Louie’ gets maybe 300 thou and it is called a ‘Million man march’..


21 posted on 07/06/2013 7:07:09 PM PDT by xrmusn (6/98 --Inside every 'older' man there is a 'younger' man wondering "WTF happened")
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To: 2banana
The Nazis in 32 won the largest single number of votes (33% or something), not the outright majority

The Moslem brotherhood's rise reminds me of the Bolsheviks in 1917 and the Ayatollah in 1979

In both cases, a dictator is overthrown by a rag-tag bunch of opposition forces, but then the most ruthless and fanatical party defeats the others because it has a strong core-message even if in raw numbers it is smaller than the others

22 posted on 07/06/2013 8:48:47 PM PDT by Cronos (Latin presbuteros>Late Latin presbyter->Old English pruos->Middle Engl prest->priest)
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To: aimhigh

I’m sorry, but by that standards (MSM in the USA), the USA doesn’t stand a chance of keeping it’s democratic values....


23 posted on 07/06/2013 8:51:05 PM PDT by Cronos (Latin presbuteros>Late Latin presbyter->Old English pruos->Middle Engl prest->priest)
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To: Belteshazzar

It would be more accurate to say the Nazis rose to power via democracy. In the Weimar Republic, with its multitude of parties, NO party ever won an actual majority.

The 44% won by the Nazis was the largest vote for any party in the history of the WR.


24 posted on 07/07/2013 4:46:06 AM PDT by Sherman Logan
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To: Cronos
I’m sorry, but by that standards (MSM in the USA), the USA doesn’t stand a chance of keeping it’s democratic values....

Look where the USA is and where it's going. We don't stand a chance.

25 posted on 07/07/2013 8:16:19 AM PDT by aimhigh (Guns do not kill people. Abortion kills people.)
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To: Sherman Logan

It seems to me that hairs are being split here. The statement, “The 44% won by the Nazis was the largest vote for any party in the history of the WR,” doesn’t mean very much in view of the actual amount of time the Republic lasted ... by then just over 13 years. Hitler came to power through a plurality, as I said.

What is remarkable is how divided Germany was along political, social, and economical lines. Because someone actually put forth a concrete plan to the voters for the nation to go forward in a united fashion, as under the old monarchy, the plan itself was not examined too carefully. Suffice it to say that “hope and change” would have worked just fine as a slogan for the NSDAP platform of 1933.

Any kind of a plan in the midst of chaos looks pretty good. Unfortunately, there was no mechanism in place to allow the voters to fine tune the plan. And Hitler had no intention of letting anyone fine tune anything. In this the comparison to the events in Egypt is not far off the mark. Someone put forward a plan in the midst of chaos. It was a plan that, as also in 1930’s Weimar Germany, tugged on certain of the nation’s religio-historical heartstrings in order to deliver power to one party, which itself never had any intention of either sharing power with anyone else ever or of being servants of the people.

In a sense, Egypt really dodged a bullet, considering Morsi won a significant majority of votes. Unfortunately, there are more bullets coming.


26 posted on 07/07/2013 1:43:06 PM PDT by Belteshazzar (We are not justified by our works but by faith - De Jacob et vita beata 2 +Ambrose of Milan)
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To: Belteshazzar
Suffice it to say that “hope and change” would have worked just fine as a slogan for the NSDAP platform of 1933.

I quite agree. In fact, it would make a fine slogan for any of the evil dictators of the past (or present).

Possibly I'm reading something into your comments that you're not actually implying, but often when people say the Nazis got "only" 44% of the vote, they are trying to imply 56% were opposed to the Nazis, which is what it would mean in USA with our basically two-party system.

The Nazis got 44%, while their allies the German National People's Party, the actual conservatives (a very different conservatism from the American version) got 8%. So they had a majority right there.

The Socialists and the Commies got 31%, and they were the only two parties drastically opposed to the Nazis.

The remaining 12% was split up among smaller parties, the Bavarian Party of which was closer to the Nazis than to their real opponents, and the Centre Party (Catholics) of whom were willing to cut a deal. Or thought they were.

You may be entirely correct to say I'm picking a nit, but I think it is a legitimate nit. My point is that Hitler and the Nazis came to power via democratic means, and got a considerably larger mandate for "hope and change" than any other party or leader had ever gotten in the 7 (more or less) free elections held by the Weimar Republic.

Hitler's power was democratically legitimate. Once he got that power, he promptly dispensed with the democracy, but his rise to power was quite democratic.

27 posted on 07/07/2013 3:24:11 PM PDT by Sherman Logan
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To: Sherman Logan

Well, I don’t see that we have much to disagree about ... mostly just word choices. But, as a historical note, to be counted among the conservatives you say were allied to the Nazis (not quite) were many if not most of the people who later attempted to assassinate Hitler. Their attraction to the Nazis, if such it can be said to be, was chiefly based on their aversion to the communists rather than their affinity to the Nazis ... as time would show.


28 posted on 07/07/2013 10:33:07 PM PDT by Belteshazzar (We are not justified by our works but by faith - De Jacob et vita beata 2 +Ambrose of Milan)
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To: Belteshazzar
But, as a historical note, to be counted among the conservatives you say were allied to the Nazis (not quite) were many if not most of the people who later attempted to assassinate Hitler.

Quite true. However, it is also fair to point out that their "opposition" to Hitler didn't go beyond the grumbling stage until the Nazis weere clearly losing the war. IOW, they weren't opposed to the Nazis as much as to being invaded and occupied by commies.

Which is entirely understandable but doesn't make them paragons of morality either.

29 posted on 07/08/2013 3:04:10 AM PDT by Sherman Logan
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