Egypt – a case study in democracy

Egypt presents an interesting case study in democracy. As much as it helps us understand this political system, it also gives us a preview of what to expect if many other Islamic states in the middle-east were to become democracies. Historically, Egypt has always had trouble accommodating divergent views of its constituent communities, and the latest development shows that democracy is not a solution to these problems.
Democracy is rule of the majority. Any idea or point of view can survive the democratic process only if it is supported by the majority. All minority ideas are at a risk of being suppressed, and those who hold on to these minority views (be it with respect to religion, political ideology or anything else) exist solely at the mercy of the majority. Thus, if the majority think that laws should be as per a religious textbook which presents a system of value that is out of sync with what the rest of the world believes, that could very well be enacted into the law of the land. The world at large might think of these laws to be outdated and want to see it changed – and they also have only their numbers and military strength to push through their “reforms”.
This is what happens in any democracy. When the distinction between minority and majority is clear, as in their belonging to two different organized religions, it is easy to see. But when their ideologies are not thus named and so more difficult to classify, this effect is harder to realize. A government that brings a system of progressive taxation because majority believes in such a system clearly sidelines the minority that cannot agree to it. How is it any different if the majority that thinks blasphemy should be punished by death implements that as a law? The percentages in the majority and minority might change in the two cases, but in both cases the majority point of view overrides the minority point of view.
Democracy is a systematized form of “might is right”. The only difference between the rule of a dictator and democracy is that in the latter it is the might of numbers whereas in the former it is usually the might of military. While some people find it easier to manipulate mobs and become successful leaders in a democracy, others find it easier to gain command of the military and use to enforce his will. I do not understand how one form of might is any more justified than the other.
Now, is this a case only in countries where people are not educated or mature enough to effectively practice democracy? Let us consider some so-called enlightened democratic systems, such as the US. Recognition of rights of some minority groups such as homosexuals is often highlighted to give the impression that the democratic process is inclusive. But this is just a fallacy. If these minority groups have got some rights now, it is just because a majority thinks it necessary to give them those rights. The views of the minority that feels these people should not be allowed have their way has been overridden.
I am not all against democracy as I might sound in this article. It is the better of the options that we have today. I am only against the thought that democracy is fair and just to everybody. When there are irreconcilable views among people, one of them will have to give up their view when the other’s view is incorporated as a law of the land. A perfect democracy only ensures that a majority are not aggrieved. However, if there are 3 players, A, B and C with divergent views and A gets elected with 40% of the votes against 30% each for B and C, even though A comes to power, the majority are against them. If the combined majority of B & C riot against A and either B or C is installed in the corridors of power, the situation would only get worse. The minimum maturity required in a democracy is for all involved to understand and accept that there is a chance that their opponents will come to power, and that time, they have to support the rule of their opponents in the interest of the democratic system.
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5 thoughts on “Egypt – a case study in democracy

  1. What do you think is a better option than democracy? What is the objective to be achieved in your argument? Is it maximum welfare to maximum people? How is the case of Egypt interesting? Can it be compared to other Islamic states such as Saudi, UAE, Oman etc. where the Sultan rules? Or is comparison with a state like Pakistan more appropriate where the army is powerful and can orchestrate a coup?! You haven't discussed much about Egypt anyways after the 3rd sentence although the title emphasises about the case of Egypt. And talking about Egypt in particular, why was Mursi ousted barely 1 year after he was elected as the top man with a thumping majority? Was it because the people were not satisfied with his governence? Or was it because he was ideologically more inclined to the Muslim brotherhoold? Or else, was it because, he wasn't in good terms with the military? Could he have been ousted if the military wasn't in favor of it? (remember he was elected 1 year ago democratically, and it is a very short time for a president to fall out of favour). Many questions are to be asked. And we cannot jump into conclusions on this one. So long. 🙂

    1. Thanks for reading, and for asking those thought provoking questions.

      "What do you think is a better option than democracy?"
      Need to ponder. What is clear now is at least that democracy is not a panacea for socio-political problems. Especially in a society that lacks the minimum maturity required (as explained in last para).

      "What is the objective to be achieved in your argument?"
      The objective is just to drive home the point made in answer to previous question, and to express my opinion that Morsi should not have been removed so hastily since he had people's mandate

      "Is it maximum welfare to maximum people?"
      The question is not clear. The objective of my argument cannot be this, but this I think is one of stated objectives of democracy or most egalitarian social/political systems

      "How is the case of Egypt interesting?"
      Interesting, because it possibly falls under the triangle inequality case A<B+C discussed in the last paragraph, where the democratic choice is not acceptable to most. In any case, it is interesting because of the quick succession of events which makes it easier to understand many effects involved.

      "Can it be compared to other Islamic states such as Saudi, UAE, Oman etc. where the Sultan rules? Or is comparison with a state like Pakistan more appropriate where the army is powerful and can orchestrate a coup?!"
      To both. Even in the Sultan-ruled states (e.g. Bahrain, where there were large protests last year) if there were to be a transition to democracy through a popular revolution, we'd likely get the same result. Pakistan is perhaps a slightly different example where people do have maturity, but army doesn't!

      "You haven't discussed much about Egypt anyways after the 3rd sentence although the title emphasises about the case of Egypt."
      Not talked much about it, but it set the context for the discussion (up until the last para) and has dominated the underlying theme

      "And talking about Egypt in particular, why was Mursi ousted barely 1 year after he was elected as the top man with a thumping majority? Was it because the people were not satisfied with his governence? Or was it because he was ideologically more inclined to the Muslim brotherhoold? Or else, was it because, he wasn't in good terms with the military?"
      I think the most important reason is the triangle inequality discussed in last para, and the resulting polarization.

      "Could he have been ousted if the military wasn't in favor of it? (remember he was elected 1 year ago democratically, and it is a very short time for a president to fall out of favour)"
      The results would not have been so quick if the army hadn't been so powerful or interfering with the political process. But army acted only after the protests went out of control, and so I believe polarization is the underlying cause and army was just an instrument to hasten the process.

      Yes, many questions to be asked, but there has to be a point to start the discussion, and the hypothesis is what I offered. You don't have to take it as a conclusion. I am open to a healthy debate. Hope your initial questions have been answered to satisfaction! Cheers!

  2. Our democracy shows that a coalition of minorities can become a majority for sometime at least to implement agendas not acceptable to actual majority.This a is sure way of perpetual turmoil and unrest in the society. The majority of minority groups can muster enough fire power during their reign to ensure their continued stronghold on power. This leads to slow alienation of public institutions in different directions, leading slowly to loss of nations identity.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment!

      I agree with you that our own (Indian) democracy political system highlights a different set of problems with democracy, and you have articulated it quite well.

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