Thursday, July 4, 2013

The Second Egyptian Revolution Without Violence - Democracy in Action

President Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood are out, as Egyptians pull off their second successful mostly non- violent revolution in under three years. There was no violence at all until pro-Mursi supporters clashed with police or civilians. Over 300 were wounded and 7 died.

But anti-Mursi protesters were never interested in violence. They wanted change. Two mostly peaceful revolutions is an impressive record in a region not noted for its democracy and an era where everybody is quick to resort to violence. Up until last night there was no evidence of police or military in the streets and Tahrir Square where hundreds of thousands gathered to chant “out, out” and celebrate in advance the demise of a president who didn’t keep his election promises and wasn’t doing his job properly. 

A president who created a government out of an unpopular party, excluded opposition and commandeered the Constitution for a month. Ironically, though, he gave the military the power to over-ride him. 

In the US when democracy is stifled by a conservative section of the government, people who protest are very civilized. There’s a lot of expression of outrage and frustration but no violence, which is good, and no real action, which isn’t so good. Essentially those who want to see change believe they have to wait until the next election and work hard to wake the masses up to the importance of voting. Overt military takeovers are prohibited, and that’s very good. It’s government of the people by the people. Or it’s supposed to be.

But although we hold onto the theory of democracy, that we are the ones with the power, we don’t really claim it fully. And in reality we place all the responsibility on elected leaders. You fix this. But that can be impossible for a leader when sectors of opposition parties that have gained power through non-democratic means create a stranglehold, as Congress has done since 2008. Who’s got the power then? 

Whoever controls that sector and in today’s world it’s corporate interest, which is the antithesis of true democracy. Either this happens or elected leaders break promises they never had any intention of keeping. So something’s wrong with the way we do democracy in the West.

Egyptians have shown us again what democracy in action really looks like. Last night CNN had live coverage of the phenomenal celebrations in Tahrir Square, with anchors and reporters speaking to various Egyptians about the impending change in government. All of them were asking the question – is this a military coup and isn’t it contrary to democracy? Nobody spoke to a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood while I was watching, and no doubt if they had the answer would have been categorically yes.

They would have been wrong, though. Democracy is about the will of the people and the majority rules. When Mursi was elected a large number of Egyptians hadn’t participated in the elections. He won the vote, but it wasn’t the will of the majority. 

About 13 million voted for him. About 12 million voted for his rival, Independent Ahmed Shafik. But voter turnout was just over 50%. A lot of the people who opposed Mursi didn’t vote. Which is also a democratic right. Does it mean they have no voice? No. 22 million signed a petition to get rid of him. That’s true democracy in action. It’s what we don’t often do in the West.  

This wasn’t a military coup. It was about deposing an elected leader who wasn’t doing his job well and who broke his election promises. It was about unseating a party that had been trying to gain power for 85 years and piggy-backed on a revolution and, with Mursi’s blessing, commandeered democracy. Rational demands were made on Mursi. He refused to listen. So a petition was started. When even that had no effect, many of those 22 million took to the streets and voted with their feet.

When politicians behave like outlaws in the West we complain but do nothing. In reality it means all bets are off. You push me around and I must take it lying down? Not if I’m an Egyptian! 

I understand the fear of the military playing any role in this. I don’t like it either. Especially that military, even though many of the old generals are gone. But Egyptians got rid of the Junta that had no integrity and absolute power. They got rid of Mubarak and Mursi. They’ll do it again if this military steps out of line. 

It isn’t civilized in the way that we know in the West. But democracy is an organic animal and this era is about the people educating themselves, learning to flex their muscles and take responsibility for holding leaders accountable. In Egypt it’s very clear that leaders have two options: pay attention and do your job properly or you’re out. We could do with some of that in the West. Imagine if Democrats banded together like this. In the last election there were about 63 million registered Democrats, 47 million Republicans, and 32 million Independents. And Congress is controlled by a group of Republicans that aren’t even representative of their own party.

Egyptians deserve congratulations for what they’ve achieved. Most remarkable to me is what they achieve without violence. When the first revolution happened, so much of the media reflected Western gloom and doom for the country. The same thing is happening again along with Egyptians don’t understand how democracy works. It’s not true, though. They understand it better than we do. When you take action you’re bound to make mistakes but that’s how you learn.