One more, albeit awkward and scary step on the way to democracy…

The journey to democracy is a long arduous and complex journey for any society.  One problem however in regard to the Middle East is that we expect the Arabs to do in a year or two what took decades even centuries in Europe and elsewhere.

Democratisation is a process and more often than not a bloody one at that.  Recent events in Egypt may be seen is an evolutionary, albeit awkward step in this process, whereby the people of Egypt have stated loud and clear that they did not depose one form of dictatorship for another.  The now ex, President Morsi was indeed elected to power in a relative free and fair process however, it was clear at the time of the elections that the success of the Muslim Brotherhood was a given, as the Muslim Brotherhood were the only organised movement in the country at the time with the ability to mount a cohesive and effective campaign.

Now ex President Morsi proved inept as a leader which in and of itself is no justification for a coup (otherwise, let’s face it, coups would be a regular occurrence throughout the democratic world).   However, Morsi along with a parliament heavily dominated by Islamists; also governed for a narrow section of society,  in the process plunging the already ailing economy into free-fall, undermining core democratic values and ultimately alienating the majority of Egyptians.

Much to the surprise of many, the Egyptian people have once again taken to the streets and shown that they are determined to achieve true democracy, incorporating those core elements such as the rule of law, equality before the law, freedom of association, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, along with the rights of women and minorities, as well as other key democratic values and practices.  They have clearly demonstrated that they will not settle for less.

This coup although to the western mind set, worryingly undemocratic; is perhaps a new example of people power in action.  Faced with an inept government failing across the board, the people of Egypt gathered a petition of over 20m signatures.  Over 20 million people then took to the streets to demand change.  One might argue that they could not afford to wait another three years until the next scheduled elections.  Desperate times do indeed sometimes demand desperate measures.   As a result, in an incredibly short space of time the people have achieved their goal.   For sure this could never have been done without the support of the army, which is an anathema for western democrats. However Egypt is in the Middle East where the approach to life is very different and thus the road to democracy and freedom will also be so.

One might argue that the Egyptian military have supported their people, in stark contracts to the likes of Syria.   The army which is seen in the country as the people’s army has in fact chosen to support the majority of its people who took to the streets demanding further change in what should be construed as a continuation of the difficult journey to democracy.  It may be far from perfect in the eyes of the West but it is a step, yes, an awkward and unorthodox one; in the right direction and to be applauded.  This coup / change of government has been thus far relatively bloodless, which cannot be taken for granted in this part of the world.  The army has also signalled its good intent by quickly establishing a civilian caretaker government comprising all elements of society, with the Chief Justice at its head, promising new elections and a new constitution  in order to establish “a fairer and less fraudulent” democracy.

Democracy in Egypt is a work in progress.  The military is in a position to provide the much needed stability and security necessary to ensure that the process continues.  Rather than usurp power for itself, all indications point to a choice by the military to support the democratic process and the Egyptian people in their struggle to develop an Egyptian form of Parliamentary democracy.   The future is far from clear however initial indications point to cause for optimism.

These developments also have far wider implications for the Middle East and the so called Arab spring.  Many feared that the Muslim Brotherhood and extremists in the region would sweep the board, taking power across the region.  Events in Egypt have delivered a surprising and major setback for the extremists and perhaps an indication that the people of the Middle East should not be taken for granted.  The Egyptians have rejected religious and political extremism and in the process have signalled to their brothers and sisters in the region, as well as the rest of the world that such a thing is possible.

The initial stages of the Arab spring played into the hands of the religious extremists and the sceptics tended to write off the ability and the will of the Arab world to achieve genuine democratic change.  OK, perhaps a democratic revolution facilitated by the military is a major contradiction however a bloodless coup where a people’s army support its people rather than slaughter its own people is far preferable and perhaps a necessary oddity in the evolution of democracy in the Middle East.

Egypt has taken one more, albeit awkward and scary step on the winding road to democracy.  It might just be showing the way for the rest of the region…

About the Author
Born and raised in Glasgow, Scotland, Gary Cohen is a writer, filmmaker and creative professional, based in Israel.