Now that the revolution is over, the hard political tasks have begun for Egypt and its citizens. The road to democracy, and not just in name alone, is always difficult.
The first requisite for democracy, one that is often underappreciated, is the level of cooperation—between citizens, the rulers and the ruled and the different political stakeholders— that is needed to make it work. Mere creation of formal institutions—a parliament, an independent election commission and others—can only go so far. In an environment poisoned by distrust, this is hard to get.
This is tough even in countries that have had the time to experiment with democracy. India would stand as an example where in spite of robust institutions, there are many frictions in running a democratic system. There are numerous other examples where the lack of such spirit often ends up undermining democracy.
Egypt faces special problems. To begin with, it will have to start building some of the institutions from scratch. From the 1952 revolution when the foundations of modern Egypt were laid, nationalism has often run ahead of democracy, retarding the institutional development required for the latter’s progress. Now, those lost decades have to be telescoped.
The regional environment too has not been propitious for democracy. In recent years, if not earlier, the idea of democracy has been viewed with suspicion there. This is because democracy is often seen as an American “export” meant to change the political order in those countries to US’ long-term goal: “pacification” of these societies and making them more amenable to what Washington wants. Iraq is cited as a prime example in this respect. Within Egypt itself, there are many discordant voices on the subject: the rejection by the crowd in Tahrir Square of any political leadership save the one organized locally using social media is an indicator this mistrust. This needs to be overcome for creating a regime- shaking leadership is very different from a leadership that can run a modern democracy.
Thinking Egyptians will soon realize, if they’ve not already done so, that what the US wants in the region and in their country is different from the democratic aspirations of people in the Middle East. One is a foreign policy problem and the other is a problem of political organization in individual societies. The two should not be confused.
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