May 27, 2014 | INTERNATIONAL

Egyptian Democracy: In Sisi We Trust

Stranded between a rock and a hard place, Egyptians have gone through three tumultuous years to end up pretty much where they started, under a tightly controlled and highly restricted regime that has as much tolerance for dissent as a vegan's appetite for steak tartare. And some even  believe that the current version, wrapping up a sham election to legitimize the military de facto iron-fist rule, is even worse (and we are talking about a pretty low baseline here, dictatorial speaking, under Mubarak's rule).

 

There are those that claim that the stability that the military regime can provide is relatively preferable to the laissez-faire-enabled upheaval of the democratic process.  Of course it is not that hard to ensure stability if your options for handling dissenters is either killing or  imprisoning them, which is exactly what the army-led government has been doing since the coup that removed Morsi from office. More poignantly, those hounded dissenters also include liberals/secularists critical of the fierce persecution of Islamists (one has to admit that where political persecution is concerned, the Egyptian junta is non-discriminatory). So the "stability" that people so cherish has a heavy price attached to it.

 

But more than that, the term itself, "stability", is suspect as it does not inherently have a positive valence but rather a neutral one. You can have "stability", meaning a condition not easily changed or disturbed, under the most brutal, repressing autocrat as well as under the most people-friendly, nurturing administration. Democracy on the other hand, although quite a flawed and problematic endeavor in practice, is in its essence a positive concept, and one that denotes a specific framework of ideas. Therefore, the dilemma between the two, is artificial and meaningless, as in one between an adjective (stable) and a noun (democracy), and only serves the purpose of scaremongering people to toe the regime's line.

 

Then there are those that purport that Egyptians are not ready for democracy, or that only baby-steps will do. The fundamentally problematic aspect of this way of thinking is twofold. Firstly it places the onus for being democratically-proficient on the voters which is the foremost argument in favor of disenfranchisement (used in colorful variations in the past against giving the vote to women, non-whites, etc). But if there is an onus of experience or knowledge, it is one that falls on those seeking office; they are the ones that should have the proficiency to communicate their positions and ideas to the voters. Voters are only expected to vote according to their (and optimally their fellow-citizens') best interest. By claiming that Egyptians are not up to this, they are implicitly infantilizing them and conveniently rendering them putty in their overlords' hands. 

 

Secondly, it conflates the voters behavior with the workings of the system. People are by default neither rational nor prudent (see the recent rise of far-right parties in Europe), and are by nature prone to both bending and ignoring rules. It is therefore essential for the checks and balances of a well-thought-out system. It is the set-up of the system of democratic rule that has to be "ready" to accommodate and serve the interests of the voters, not the other way around.

 

Unfortunately, in a society where free speech is absent and the monopoly of power rests loftily in the army barracks, democracy can easily be marketed as a less than stellar concept and even worse, co-opted to support the status quo. No wonder in that sense that in a apogee of cognitive dissonance, plain brainwashing or semantic meltdown, an ex-Morsi voter declared that "the army and democracy go hand in hand."