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 The world at large might think of these laws to be outdated and want to see it changed – and they also have only their numbers and military strength to push through their “reforms”.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.
Related post: Fringe cases in Democracy and Tyranny