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Egyptians prefer protests to democracy
WHEN you really think about it, Egyptians may like protesting more than they like practicing democracy. They rallied against the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, but now are just as forcefully rallying against their country’s first truly democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi.
One must ask if Egypt’s “Arab Spring” is about democracy, or if it is about something else. As the Arab Spring spread across parts of the Arab world before braking hard in others, protestors were seen pleading for democracy, freedom, and equality. Yet the Arab Spring has a dark side that has fostered rising instances of violence and sexual assaults against women, not just by the disciples of the dictators but by the “pro-democracy” protestors.
Just as an election doesn’t guarantee a democracy, neither does the free speech of protestors. Morsi won a contentious election which drew an unprecedented high voter turnout. The vote was not that close. A vote of 51 percent is a “solid victory.” But in the Arab world where dictators have won 99 percent of voter turnout in rigged elections, it’s considered unimpressive.
If Egypt is an indication, maybe the Arab world really doesn’t want democracy after all. What do they want, though? Certainly they want more freedoms so they can challenge the dictatorships and policies they dislike. But maybe they also want dictatorial powers so they can impose their will on others. Or maybe they just love to protest.
Unhappy with the election results, Morsi’s foes are doing everything they can to undermine his government. But in true democracies, newly elected officials deserve some time to lead their country out of the darkness of tyranny before being held to the fires of criticism.
The Morsi protestors are not protesting against a self-anointed dictator. They are attacking someone who was chosen from among their own ranks. Protests are morally justified when they target dictatorship and tyranny. But, they become tools of anarchists and despot-wannabes when they target democratically elected candidates like Morsi.
If Morsi has overstepped his mandate, turning to street protests that have turned violent is a serious violation of the principle of democracy. It’s one thing to protest and speak freely against a government. It is another to protest and use violence in an effort to bring it down simply because you disagree with the elected official’s policies.
The protests in Egypt today are morally wrong and are merely a tool of those who are either unhappy with the election results, or hope to establish their own dictatorial reign.
Arabs love the concept of democracy, but apparently many hate the reality of democracy. The most important principle of democracy is that democratically elected leaders like Morsi do not remain in office for life. They are forced to run in new elections, usually with term limits, allowing the public to vote on their performance in office.
If Morsi fails as Egypt’s first president, then the voters have the right to vote him out of office and elect someone else who reflects the will of the majority. And remember, the meaning of democracy is not to represent the unanimity of the public, but rather a simple representation of 50 percent of the voters plus one vote.
If Egyptians truly want democracy, then they must allow it to work. They must also recognize that as Egypt’s first democratically elected president, Morsi is facing the institutions of the dictatorship that democracy replaced.
For example, although Mubarak has been jailed along with some of his accomplices, the military remains in the control of Mubarak’s old regime. And, Egypt’s justices are remnants of the Mubarak regime.
The most important aspect of democracy, though, is that free speech is not only free, it is critical. Criticism of the elected official, and criticism of those who criticize. But in a democracy, criticism should never turn to violence.
The Arab world is new to democracy and it is also new to free speech and criticism. What’s happening in Egypt should be expected. But democracy means nothing if the Arab world is intolerant of criticism and disrespectful of democratically elected leaders.
That intolerance of free speech and differing opinions fosters the violence that has dominated the history of the Arab world.
It’s hard for a human being who was raised in oppression, raised in tyranny and raised in censorship to suddenly understand that embracing democracy also means accepting the right of others to disagree.
It also means that in order to put meaning into the purpose of the Arab Spring, women must be given equal rights, an equal voice and positions of leadership in the governing process, not just token window-dressing appointments.
The current crisis in Egypt’s democracy can either help the nation forge ahead to the goal of true freedom for everyone, men and women, and allow a robust public debate that is free of fear and violence, or it can merely serve as a doormat beckoning some yet unknown power who will merely become the nation’s new dictator.
Egypt’s future is up to the people who lost the election. Either they continue with their violent protests or they set aside their rhetorical hysteria and use the mechanisms of democratic power that are available not only to the “majority” but also the “minority” political party.
— Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist. He can be reached at www.TheMediaOasis.com
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Hanania writes weekly columns on Middle East and American Arab issues for the Arab News in Saudi Arabia at www.ArabNews.com, and at www.TheArabDailyNews.com, www.TheDailyHookah.com and at SuburbanChicagoland.com. He has also published weekly columns in the Jerusalem Post newspaper, YNetNews.com, Newsday Newspaper in New York, the Orlando Sentinel Newspapers, and the Arlington Heights Daily Herald.
Palestinian, American Arab and Christian, Hanania’s parents originate from Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Hanania is the recipient of four (4) Chicago Headline Club “Peter Lisagor Awards” for Column writing. In November 2006, he was named “Best Ethnic American Columnist” by the New American Media. In 2009, Hanania received the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi Award for Writing from the Society of Professional Journalists. He is the recipient of the MT Mehdi Courage in Journalism Award. He was honored for his writing skills with two (2) Chicago Stick-o-Type awards from the Chicago Newspaper Guild. In 1990, Hanania was nominated by the Chicago Sun-Times editors for a Pulitzer Prize for his four-part series on the Palestinian Intifada.
His writings have also been honored by two national Awards from ADC for his writing, and from the National Arab American Journalists Association.
The managing editor of Suburban Chicagoland Online News website www.SuburbanChicagoland.com, Hanania's columns also appear in the Southwest News Newspaper Group of 8 newspapers.
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