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What Killed Egyptian Democracy?

For Liberals and Islamists, Theory Matters
Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Supporters of Egypt's deposed president Mohamed Morsi outside Rabaa al Adawiya mosque in Cairo, on the eve of Eid al Fitr, August 7, 2013. Photograph: Jonathan Rashad

On February 11, 2011, after eighteen days of protests, Hosni Mubarak resigned as President of Egypt. Now, three years later, the Egyptian security state appears to have re-established political control of the country.

Why did the democratic transition fail? Answers range widely. Some blame the poorly designed transition process, which made trust among different political groups unachievable. Others point to a lack of leadership within Egypt’s political organizations, particularly the Muslim Brotherhood. Still others focus on a devastating economic crisis that post-Mubarak governments could never address given the political divisions within the country.

These explanations are plausible and not mutually exclusive. But they all miss something important. The January 25 Revolution was also a striking failure of political theory. More precisely, it was a failure of the theories embraced by the most idealistic revolutionaries. Their demands were too pure; they refused to accord any legitimacy to a flawed transition—and what transition is not flawed?—that could only yield a flawed democracy. They made strategic mistakes because they did not pay enough attention to Egypt’s institutional, economic, political, and social circumstances. These idealists generally were politically liberal. But the problem does not lie in liberalism itself. The problem lies in a faulty understanding of the implications of political liberalism in the Egyptian context—an insufficient appreciation of factors that limited what could reasonably be achieved in the short term. A more sophisticated liberalism would have accounted for these realities.

The Balance of Forces

Although the masses in Tahrir Square appeared unified on the day Mubarak fell, three broad groups were vying for power.

The first, associated with the military, took a minimalist view: the Revolution was simply about removing Mubarak and his cronies from power, and ensuring that his son, Gamal Mubarak, did not succeed him to the presidency. Given this group’s desire to preserve as much as possible of Mubarak’s order (without Mubarak), it was able to reconcile with old-regime elements. This first group originally lacked a distinctive ideology, but it eventually adopted a nationalist, sometimes even xenophobic, posture that distinguished it from the cosmopolitanism of Islamist, liberal, and socialist revolutionaries.

According to a second group, the Revolution aimed at broad reforms of the Egyptian state without uprooting it entirely. For this reformist group, the crisis stemmed from corruption. Mubarak, they argued, had undermined the state’s integrity by usurping its institutions to fulfill his and his allies’ personal and political ends. The Revolution needed to reform the state’s institutions so that they would meet the formal requirements of a legal order, accountable to the public will. Formal democracy was a crucial demand of this group because it was seen as the only way to ensure that the state would not again be hijacked to further the interests of a narrow group of Egyptian elites. The Muslim Brotherhood and its allies belonged to this second group.

The third group, composed largely of young Egyptians, understood the Revolution as an attempt to fundamentally restructure state and society. The Revolution provided an opportunity to create a virtuous state. Doing so would, however, require a complete rupture with the ancien regime. This radical group had an ambivalent relationship with formal democracy. Although elections were desirable, the most important goal was the substantive transformation of the state and society. “Revolutionary legitimacy” trumped whatever legitimacy formal representative democracy could provide.

The support enjoyed by each of these three groups remains uncertain. No one disputes that the youth, the third group, served as the revolutionary vanguard, having planned and executed the anti-regime demonstrations on January 25. The Muslim Brotherhood joined later, and the military, for obvious reasons, was the last to take up the banner.

Egypt's most idealistic revolutionaries didn't understand the implications of political liberalism.

Still, one should not exclude the military from the revolutionary coalition. The protestors at Tahrir welcomed the military, which they believed to be more sympathetic to their cause than the detested police. Demonstrators treated the military as a legitimate authority. For example, when protesters caught agents provocateurs working for the regime, they were turned over to the military.

Other actions also underscored the willingness of Tahrir revolutionaries to recognize the continued legitimacy of at least parts of the old order. For example, prominent liberal lawyers within the revolutionary camp continued to abide by the constitution that Mubarak had put in place in the waning years of his presidency. This constitution included a series of amendments, adopted in spite of gross procedural irregularities, which were intended to ensure his son’s succession. During the Revolution one liberal lawyer even published an appeal to Mubarak in the Washington Post demanding that he perform the formal steps required of a legal transition.

The more restrained interpretations of the Revolution continue to have strong support among Egyptians even when Mubarak resigned. Subsequent elections confirmed this. In the March 19th referendum, voters favored a quick transition and rejected radicals’ appeals to complete a draft constitution before selecting a new government. In the subsequent parliamentary elections, Islamist-affiliated parties won almost 70 percent of the seats, while post-revolutionary liberal parties took only 10 percent. And in the presidential elections of 2012, with Mohamed ElBaradei withdrawn from the race, the liberals could not even field a candidate. The top two vote-getters in the first round, Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak’s last prime minister, and Mohammad Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, were affiliated, respectively, with the minimalist and reformist camps.

Whatever else can be said about the political preferences of Egyptians as revealed by their post-revolutionary voting patterns, elections demonstrated that a successful and peaceful democratic transition would require a coalition of minimalists, reformists, and radicals. Each group would have to accommodate the other two.

The Challenge of Pluralism

Accommodations are hardly unusual in societies emerging from a long period of authoritarian rule. Consider Chile, where General Pinochet was granted immunity in the aftermath of his bloody regime. All over Latin America, citizens accepted a substantial continuing role for free market economics, even though it had been a tool of dictators. Successful democratic transition inevitably requires some degree of compromise with old ways.

The challenge Egyptians faced throughout the transition was to build an inclusive polity in the face of their deep divisions. They could resolve these divisions either by suppressing disagreements through a forceful exercise of state power or by competing at the ballot box. The former strategy requires massive state violence in the short term and almost always leads to suspension of formal democracy, without any guarantee of a return to democracy in the medium or long term. The latter strategy involves less force, establishes at least the formal elements of democratic rule, and preserves the possibility of additional democratic gains in the future, even if it requires concessions to undemocratic or illiberal political groups in the present and is marked occasionally by episodes of political violence.

Both liberal and Islamic political theories endorse the second option. Traditional Islamic political theory prioritizes social peace in circumstances where achieving a more ideal polity would require widespread violence. Preserving social peace is also a crucial moral value of such political thinkers as Thomas Hobbes and John Rawls. These theories applied in Egypt: a formally democratic regime that allowed for fair and nonviolent competition over political office was the only means of including all three of Egypt’s political forces and thus the most likely to preserve social peace. Any attempt to suppress one of the three groups, on the other hand, would contradict this fundamental moral precept and would launch the country into civil war or else result in the imposition of emergency law. Both outcomes would foreclose meaningful politics.

From a Rawlsian perspective, Egypt’s divisions meant that social peace could only be achieved through a constitution establishing a temporary agreement among the parties. Such a constitution could do no more than guarantee formally democratic procedures of governance. It could not satisfy the requirements of justice, since it would be grounded in a particular balance of social power rather than an overlapping consensus on a conception of justice. Nevertheless, such a constitution, in Rawls’s view, is usually a necessary step toward the establishment of a just, well-ordered society.

The 14th century Arab Muslim political thinker Ibn Khaldūn’s tripartite typology of regimes—natural, rational, and Islamic—is consistent, in broad terms, with Rawls’s analysis. Natural states are based on relations of domination between the ruler and the ruled, restrained only by the limitations of the ruler’s actual power. Rational and Islamic states, by contrast, impose moral restraints on the exercise of political power. According to Ibn Khaldūn, rational and Islamic regimes transcend the relations of domination characteristic of natural regimes and establish overlapping conceptions of the common secular good. Ibn Khaldūn’s rational and Islamic regimes both can foster the convergence in political morality that—like Rawls’s overlapping consensus—characterizes a just constitution. Critically, this convergence or consensus must occur organically. Ibn Khaldūn argued that coerced adherence to Islamic law fails to produce virtuous subjects. Likewise, coerced imposition of even a just constitution cannot produce an effective system of justice if large numbers of citizens are incapable of freely adhering to its terms.

Although procedural democracy by itself did not promise the radicals the substantive changes they hoped for in the short term, it did offer the possibility of social peace and an opportunity to generate, over time, a broader consensus on the fundamental questions of how to establish a just and effective state worthy of citizens’ freely given allegiance. It also offered the foundation of a more liberal political order.

Morsi’s Constitutional Declaration

The most powerful post-revolutionary political actors in Egypt accepted a pragmatic option: they rejected radicalism and endorsed procedural democracy. When Morsi moved in November 2012 to insulate his decisions and the content of the 2012 constitution from judicial review, he was following the pragmatic course. Proponents of a liberal constitution objected, but their aims were not achievable without strife.

Most commentary points to Morsi’s November 2012 declaration as the final blow to the Muslim Brotherhood’s relationship with the liberal and radical revolutionaries, effectively setting in motion the events that led to the July 2013 coup.

Morsi was hardly the first Egyptian politician to issue such a decree. The military had used constitutional declarations regularly throughout the transition process in order to ensure that a formal legal order would remain in place. Morsi’s goal was not outlandish either. He intended to prevent the judiciary from interfering with the constitutional drafting process so that a text could be completed in accordance with the provisions of the transitional road map, which had been approved by the March 2011 referendum. The radicals interpreted Morsi’s decree as an intolerable assault on democracy, which confirmed their suspicions that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were attempting to create a new kind of authoritarian state.

The very conditions that produce democracy—liberty and equality—also produce factionalism, instability, and violence.

The real issue, however, was the make-up of the Constituent Assembly and the substance of the constitution it would draft. The parties arrived at a deal, including the semi-presidential structure of the state—with executive power shared by a prime minister and popularly elected president—but the role of religion was a sticking point. Because Parliament had selected the members of the Constituent Assembly, and because Islamists had won Parliament, Islamists dominated the Constituent Assembly. Liberals argued, not unreasonably, that those parliamentary elections exaggerated Islamists’ long-term political strength. Liberals also thought that the draft sacrificed or limited too many personal rights and freedoms in the name of religion, morality, and family values. They argued that the constitution would not be legitimate unless it was a consensual document capable of gaining acceptance by all significant social groups in Egypt.

The individual-rights provisions of the constitution were clearly deficient from the perspective of international human rights law. In particular, the attempt to limit personal rights in the name of respect for traditional religious values does not comport with wider commitments to liberty. Liberal dissidents, however, never faced up to the reality that Egypt is divided on these personal rights. Should the state underwrite freedom of expression even if that enables blasphemy and apostasy? Should gender equality override religious rules, Christian or Muslim, particularly in the context of family law? Given that so many Egyptians disagree with the liberal position on these matters, it is hard to understand what the demand for a consensual constitution recognizing personal rights could have meant in practical terms.

The argument that the Constituent Assembly unreasonably exaggerated the strength of Islamist parties was plausible, but even granting this point, any democratic process would have placed a significant block of Islamists in the Constituent Assembly. So there was no democratic path for liberals to establish a constitution that secured the personal rights and freedoms they sought.

By the time Morsi issued his November 2012 declaration, constitutional deliberations had effectively ground to a halt. From Morsi’s perspective, the declaration was the only means available to prevent the Supreme Constitutional Court from dissolving the Constituent Assembly. He had reasonable grounds to worry that the Court was prepared to intervene. A case demanding dissolution was pending, and the Court had already issued two rulings that interfered in the democratic transition: one disbanding Egypt’s first freely elected Parliament since 1952, the second overturning a law that attempted to bar old-regime elements, such as Shafiq, from running for the presidency. The dissidents’ boycott of the Constituent Assembly’s deliberations was a not-so-subtle sign to the Court that, as far as they were concerned, its intervention would be welcome. In light of the Court’s opposition and the fast-approaching deadline for completion of the draft constitution, Morsi felt he had no choice but to cut the Court out.

There is little doubt that Morsi, as the democratically elected president, was the more legitimate arbiter of this dispute. The Court is not democratically accountable, and the draft constitution could not come into effect unless it won approval in a popular referendum. While one might disagree with Morsi’s methods, it is reasonable to conclude that he acted in accordance with his responsibilities as the only democratically accountable official in the country.

To describe his actions as a naked power grab, as ElBaradei suggested at the time, requires a presumption of bad faith inconsistent with democratic commitments. The radicals’ violent opposition to the November declaration would only have been justified if the constitution Morsi acted to protect failed to promote a pluralistic and inclusive political system. This was not the case. The 2012 constitution provided a more open political system than had prevailed prior to the Revolution. It increased formal political rights, reduced the power of the president, and increased the power of the prime minister and the Parliament.

These changes were meaningful. For the first time, anyone could form a political party or publish in print without the prospect of government censorship. By contrast, during the Mubarak-era, the formation of political parties required the state’s approval, thereby ensuring that no party capable of challenging the ruling National Democratic Party could develop. Under the new constitution, the president would be limited to serving two terms, would face stricter rules on declaring states of emergency, and would no longer be able to dismiss the prime minister. Parliament was newly empowered to withdraw confidence from the government. And the president would be required to select the prime minister from the largest party in Parliament.

The new constitution also boosted the capacity of the political branches by leaving open the content of many rights. Limitations on personal rights could only become operational upon the passage of positive law. The same was true of the provision contemplating military trials for civilians: Egypt’s future governments had the power to reduce the jurisdiction of military courts or to eliminate it through legislation. And though the constitution did not recognize a universal right to religious exercise—protection is limited to followers of the three Abrahamic religions—it did not prevent the state from doing so in the future by statute.

This structure reduced the influence of the courts—in particular the Supreme Constitutional Court—by vesting the power to define rights in the political branches. This was a reasonable constitutional strategy in a society characterized by sharp division on fundamental personal rights. Indeed, from a Rawlsian perspective, we would expect such a society to adopt a constitution that guarantees only those political rights necessary for democratic participation in lawmaking. The 2012 constitution appeared to accomplish that, leaving the more contentious issues of individual rights to future deliberation. Unlike constitutions of nearby states, such as Morocco, the 2012 constitution did not entrench any provisions, including those on the role of Islam, as supra-constitutional norms impervious to amendment. Nor did it place any substantive, ideological limitations on the formation of secular political parties, provided that they were not organized on a discriminatory basis. It did not impose religious piety or a theological test as condition for public office. This ensured that the constitution would not privilege the Muslim Brotherhood, other Islamist parties, or even the role of Islam itself above other provisions of the Constitution.

Democratic Faith

Even in a well-ordered, just society, Rawls argued, a polity may in some cases legitimately restrict the liberty of conscience of the intolerant, but only when there is a “reasonable expectation that not doing so will damage the public order which the government should maintain.” While Egypt is not a well-ordered society in Rawls’s sense, his principle casts light on how liberals should have reacted to the prospect of a military-led coup against an illiberal elected president and his illiberal political party. Extrapolating from Rawls’s treatment of restrictions on liberty of conscience, we might say that preservation of the constitutional order is the only justification for such an intervention, and this claim is only legitimate when it is based on objective evidence, widely accessible, demonstrating that the threat to the lawful public order is not “merely possible or in certain cases even probable, but reasonably certain or imminent.”

Liberals underestimated the people's desire for security and their willingness to submit to power in order to achieve it.

It is hard to judge that Morsi’s conduct as president, however disappointing, crossed this threshold. Many radical revolutionaries justified their support for Morsi’s removal not on the grounds that his actions represented an imminent threat to the political order, but rather on the grounds that Morsi did not confront the military and the police with sufficient vigor. In their eyes he thus betrayed the revolution.

It is not clear, however, that Morsi had the power to transform these instruments of oppression in the year he was in office. The security forces were largely immune to Morsi’s influence. They refused to protect the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political party, the Freedom and Justice Party. Even businesses affiliated, or thought to be affiliated, with the Muslim Brotherhood could not rely on police or military protection. When the presidential palace was attacked during demonstrations in the wake of Morsi’s constitutional decree, the security services were nowhere to be found. For Morsi’s opponents, however, his failure to reform the security services was taken not as a sign of his weakness but as evidence that he and the Muslim Brotherhood were conspiring with the military and police to destroy the liberal and radical opposition.

Even less plausible than fears of a secret alliance between the Muslim Brotherhood and the security services was Egyptian liberals’ belief that, in acting against Morsi, the military would promote democracy rather than restore the security state. Even if liberals were right about Morsi’s and the Muslim Brotherhood’s intentions, the only rational democratic strategy would have been to insist on parliamentary elections. There were at least three routes. If the opposition were able to win a two-thirds majority in upcoming parliamentary elections—which should have been easy if its claims about the universal unpopularity of the Muslim Brotherhood were true—it could have impeached Morsi. If found guilty at trial, he would have been removed from office. Even if unsuccessful in removing Morsi, such a strategy would have strengthened the cause of Egyptian democracy. A less dramatic step would have been to use Parliament’s powers to withdraw confidence and appoint a new government. The other lawful option would have been to defeat Morsi or another Muslim Brotherhood candidate in the 2016 presidential elections.

Instead the opposition, including radical revolutionaries, demanded early presidential elections. But there were no legal grounds for hastening the election schedule. Morsi could only be ousted by military intervention, a strategy that discredited political parties as the representatives of the Egyptian people in favor of the military, police, and other state institutions. Thus did Egypt’s most ardent democrats, under the banner of “the Revolution continues,” forego constitutional options in favor of methods that would only advance authoritarianism.

The idealists who halted the democratic experiment failed to understand what democratic theorists have long recognized: that the very conditions that produce democracy—liberty and equality—also produce factionalism, instability, and violence. If clashes are not mediated through some acceptable institutional arrangement, they are likely to be resolved through despotism. This risk was especially palpable in Egypt given the dominant role that the military and security services have played since 1952.

Citizens in a democracy must accept compromise with political adversaries, which means that ideologues of every stripe will be disappointed. (Indeed, strident Islamists criticized Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood for making too many compromises with secular democrats.) The failure to achieve all of one’s political goals is the price of democratic politics. The refusal to accept this price may lead to the kind of political disaster we are now witnessing in Egypt. Democracy, though grounded in the values of equality and liberty, is never born in societies perfectly reflecting these values. If they are realized, it is through the patient practice of democratic politics, even when its substantive outcomes conflict with one’s political ideals. A successful democracy emerges gradually, inspired by the fierce, even fanatical, belief in the ability of democracy to improve the people’s political virtue over time. Ironically Egypt’s most radical democrats did not have this faith.

Liberal and radical critics of the Muslim Brotherhood failed to realize that the real choice in Egypt was not between an Islamic state and a civil state, but between a state based on some conception of the public good—religious or non-religious—and one based on pure domination. In line with Ibn Khaldūn’s argument about the relationship between the religious conception of the state and the rational one, there should have been plenty of scope for agreement between religious and secular democratic forces. Tragically, liberals underestimated the people’s desire for security and their willingness to submit even to arbitrary and predatory power in order to achieve it. Their extra-legal strategies—protests, boycotts, and, finally, military intervention—gravely undermined the prospects that the emerging government would provide this crucial public good, opening the door for the return of the security state.

Egypt remains burdened by years of mismanagement and ill-considered policies that have been destructive of the common good, promoted corruption, and enfeebled the state’s non-security functions. Egypt cannot have a stable democracy if it does not overcome this legacy. Only a government with democratic legitimacy can undertake the inevitably painful reforms. Repression of the Muslim Brotherhood—the country’s most organized political group and one that, at least in principle, supports democratic practices—only puts off the day when Egypt can begin these needed reforms. By advocating military intervention in politics and, in too many cases, backing a coup against the legitimate government, the liberal and radical opposition have for the time being ruined the conditions for democracy. If the military-installed regime fails to establish political stability, which is a real possibility, Egypt faces the prospect of political chaos and even state failure.

This is the price of dogmatism in politics.

Truly the best and most comprehensive article written on Egypt since the coup!

Indeed, Professor Fadel's article, "What Killed Egyptian Democracy", may be the best article so far on the "Arab Spring", based both on Ibn Khaldun's perspective of transcendent justice or "natural law" and John Rawls' secular perspective of stability through a just balance.  They both require compromise in the search for Common Ground as the essence of political justice (haqq al hurriya).
The MB's major error was to support a formally Islamic constitution instead of a civil constitution with all of the human responsibilities and human rights alfeady enshrined in an enlightened understanding of Islamic jurisprudence, known as the  maqasid al shari'ah.  
The second major error was the failure to address the need for reform of the system of money and banking so that credit for investment in productive wealth could be based not on past wealth accumulations but on future profits.  A resultant narrowing of the wealth gap in the pursuit of economic justice for everyone would be possible only over a period of years, but at least it would have provided the vision and mission that existed in the early years of the  Muslim Brotherhood and still could do so for the success of a new reform movement sometime in the perhaps distant future.  Bob Crane, Director of the Qatar Foundation's Center for the Study of Islamic Thought and Muslim Societies, January 2012 - December 2013.

In my humble opinion this lengthy dissertation describes the symptoms very well but sadly misses diagnosing the underlying disease. A "religious government" in a nation state is a recipe for disaster especially for religion itself. Religion loses its meaning if there is coersion and government by definition is a coercise entity. In this context the US constitution and its subsequent implementation offers the best guidance for 21 st century societies. The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances. It was adopted on December 15, 1791, as one of the ten amendments that comprise the Bill of Rights.
Religion can only flourish (as it does today in the United States) if Government stays out of it. American Muslims can practice (or not practice) their religion more freely than any other so called muslim country in the world. Muslim majority states across the board are going down the path of repeating history instead of learning from it and unfortunately there is much more bloodshed to come. 
 
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Congratulations Zahid! Your diagnosis of the the Egyptian problem is impeccable. Professor Fadel's article represents an attempt to justify the imposition of Islamic law on the Egyptian people by the Moslem Brotherhood, simply because they won an election. If they had been allowed to continue, they would have eventually taken control of the military and imposed an islamic state a la Iran.

I'm really disappointed with the way the situation in Egypt is handled here. I see a clear editorial choice to portray the situation in Egypt in a particular light that shows a clear bias towards one side in the crisis. First, the choice of the title "What killed Egyptian democracy?" is based on the assumptions that Egypt a) had a democracy or a particular form of democracy, and b) that this democracy is dead, both of which are extremely controversial. Second, you chose that the forum be led by a contributor who has, at least for the past few months, made it clear through his various writings and interventions that he stands on one side of the crisis, which is not a problem in itself, but this should have prompted you to give equal space to someone, preferably also an Egyptian, who stands on a different side of the crisis. I lament the fact that there's only one Egyptian among the contributors to the Forum, and only two women (from a total of seven), and that is not for the scarcity of Egyptian academics and intellectuals both in Egypt and abroad (including in the United States).
 
I could give a point-by-point rebuttal to the many unsubstantiated claims presented by Fadel, and others, as facts here, but that might not be of great interest here. However, following are some points that I think are worthy of a response.
 
Mohammed Fadel keeps insisting on using the term "liberals" haphazardly and ambiguously, sometimes to designate particular organized political forces and sometimes to somehow vaguely refer to the masses that took to the streets against Morsi's reign. If we put aside the senselessness of the latter assumption, that the millions who took to the streets are all liberals, then the former is extremely problematic, since it seems to put all the political forces that were opposed to Morsi's rule in one basket and to label them all "liberal", which is the farthest thing from the truth. Opponents of the Morsi regime included political forces as disparate as non-Islamist right-wing conservatives (i.e. liberals in the most common sense used in Egypt and in Continental Europe), center-leftists, communists, Nasserists, nationalists, among others. The wider coalition included intellectuals, writers and journalists known for their pro-military sympathies and/or their support of the old regime. However, the Egyptian masses that took to the street in June 2013, arguably the biggest in the country's history, do not necessarily have pre-defined ideologies. Most of them were ordinary Egyptians extremely disillusioned with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) regime, its authoritarian (and what was also perceived by many as anti-nationalist) aspirations, its blackmail of the populace in the name of a particular interpretation of Islam and its failed economic policies that did not even give Egyptians the chance to assume good intentions because of the lack of any coherent vision present by the MB, the constant not only justification of failure, but also attempts to capitalize on failure, as well as what was perceived as the MB's attempts to brotherhoodize the state.
 
Judging that it would have only been justified to topple Morsi had he been an imminent threat to the political order, Fadel denies that this could have possibly been the case, and affirms that "radical revolutionaries justified their support for Morsi's removal not on the grounds that his actions represented an imminent threat to the political order, but rather on the grounds that Morsi did not confront the military and the police with sufficient vigor." However, it's also true that most Egyptians, not only radical revolutionaries, saw Morsi and the MB regime as an imminent threat to the political order, by their attempts at illegitimately empowering their cadres inside the various institutions of the state (brotherhoodization), following the notion of tamkin, a central notion in MB literature, effectively rendering the MB a state within a state, a doomsday scenario whose inauspicious beginnings were visible to most Egyptians.
 
Fadel's claim that Egypt's security apparatus was immune to Morsi's influence does not stand scrutiny. Morsi had all the power to radically reform the police force, but the MB regime used a double discourse whereby, on one hand, it officially appaluded the security apparatus, aligned itself with it against the revolutionaries and attempted to co-opt it, and on the other hand, through its spokespersons who were not regime officials, it blamed the security apparatus for all the failures of the regime, under the hollow label of "the deep state."
 
One way that could have spared Egypt the military intervention was for Morsi to agree to holding early presidential elections, which was the main demand of the protest movement, but Fadel brushes this possibility off without any discussion, under the pretext that there were "no legal grounds for hastening the election schedule." However, this scenario of holding early elections, in the face of a parliamentary stalemate or a national crisis, is not entirely far-fetched, and has happened over and over in many established democracies around the world.
 
Citing political theorists, from Ibn Khaldun to John Rawls, Mohamed Fadel provides very peculiar and selective interpretations of these authors, assuming a certrain transhistorical validity of these interpretations. I find his appeal to John Rawls particularly vexing: presenting John Rawls as valuing "social peace" above all else is a very odd reading of Rawls, and giving precedence to the notion of the overlapping consensus in Rawls over that of the original position and the veil of ignorance is extremely curious. Ellis Goldberg aptly describes Fadel's conservatism as being more indebted to Edmund Burke than to John Rawls. Besides, Fadel seems to fancifully assume that those whom he labels "Egyptian liberals" find their inspiration in John Rawls, and then goes from there, as if in a gotcha moment, to bring evidence from Rawls to support certain arguments he tries to make about that supposed "liberalism" espoused by Egyptians! Fadel then goes to make unwarranted assumptions about how Rawls would see the passing of a constitution, à la Morsi, that is "grounded in a particular balance of social power rather than an overlapping consensus" as a "necessary step toward the establishment of a just, well-ordered society," which I would qualify as quite a brazen assumption on Fadel's part.
 
Fadel misleadingly claims that the 2012 Constitution "provided a more open political system than had prevailed prior to the Revolution." He states many important elements in the constitution that were necessary for the formation of a sound political sphere, however, he fails to clarify that most of these new gains, limited presidential terms, freedom to form parties, etc., were actually acquired in the previous constitutional declaration of 2011, and that it would have been almost impossible for the 2012 constitution to take away those gains. Those were the gains of the revolution, not of Morsi's constitution.
 
Claiming that any democratic process would have given Islamists a majority, Fadel disregards the fact that most Egyptians, because of the exceptional nature of the constitution-writing process as a founding moment, believed that the passing of a constitution should not be governed by the formal rules of representative democracy, as flawed as they are in a revolutionary moment, and that the constitution-writing process should have been more inclusive and reflective of the various political forces, even if they were not organized enough to win regular elections. 
 
In his defense of the Morsi's constitution, Fadel states with a lot of confidence that the majority of Egyptians do not approve of personal liberties (!), and so he seems to imply that if the majority of Egyptians believe that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) is a practice worth maintaining, or as he says that perhaps blasphemy should not be protected under free speech, then a true democracy should be reflective of the choice of the majority, regardless of any notion of universal human rights. Which makes me wonder: how is Fadel's version of democracy any different from a simple tyranny of the majority? 
 
At a theoretical level, I believe that the recent crisis in Egypt was a reflection of an increasingly widespread disillusionment with bourgeois, representative, liberal democracy, not only in Egypt, but also around the Middle East, in Arab countries, in Turkey, in Israel as well as in European countries like Greece and Spain. Revolutionary Egyptians seemed to yearn for a form of participatory and direct democracy that they were hoping to shape together over the coming years. However, what the MB offered was even less than bourgeois, representative, liberal democracy. The MB's democratic model was centered around a fetishization of the ballot box that turned democracy into a "ballotocracy" and reduced it to a tyranny of the majority. Fadel's obsession with formal democracy seems to echo the MB's aspirations, without even looking at the fact that even though Egypt may not have seen under the MB the blatant rigging of the votes that it used to see under Mubarak, it nonetheless did not see free elections, but rather elections where we have ample evidence of the suppression of the Coptic vote and vote buying (sometimes through the provision of goods misappropriated from the State). These do not constitute, by no means possible, the "formal elements of democratic rule."
 
As for Akbar Ganji's labeling of anti-MB protesters as "secular fundamentalists," I'm afraid that this simply speaks volumes of the author's disconnect with Egyptian politics, the same disconnect that led other foreign commentators to describe practicing Egyptian Muslims as "Islamophobic" simply for their opposition to MB rule, which only reflects the conflation on the part of these commentators of Islam and political Islam. Pious and practicing Egyptians opposed the MB's political agenda and its attempts at imposing a particular interpretation of Islam and blackmailing the populace into supporting it. This does not mean that these Egyptians espoused a certain secular view, understood for instance as the relegation of religion to the private sphere, to the contrary. The hundreds of thousands who occupied Tahrir Square in protest against Morsi held public prayers where they pled to God to "rid Egypt of religion mongers," a reference to the Muslim Brotherhood. These are certainly not the actions of "secular fundamentalists." The prevalent idea in the west, that some Islamists peddle as well, that what transpired in Egypt was the culmination of a conflict between "democratic" Islamists on one hand and "undemocratic" liberal seculars on the other is a figment of the that West's imagination, and it is at best a lazy interpretation that only reflects that West's Orientalist, reductionist belief in the idea that given democracy, "Muslims" must opt for an Islamic/Islamist form of government. 
 
Ann Norton's admirable attempt to introduce the category of "class" to the analysis only ends up with what I see as catastrophic results, which again is probably only proof of insufficient familiarity with the subject at hand and a tendency to apply ready-made explanations to a situation that defies those typical answers. The class element to be introduced in the discussion is not that the members of the MB were perceived by liberals as "uneducated, primitive, and poor," and it's not that the MB was committed to diminishing economic inequality, but it is rather that the MB is a hierarchical, right-wing organization that believes in hypocritically consolidating popular support through providing charitable services in a country stricken by poverty and the failure of the state to provide decent public services. The MB has never championed a discourse of equality based on rights or justice, but rather a typical right-wing discourse of charity. Many MB leaders are business tycoons, billionaires and multimillionaires who, once in power, attempted to establish their interests even further, sometimes through deals with Mubarak-era businessmen. 
 
In the end, I think that this might have been a well-intentioned attempt on BR's part to address the situation in Egypt, but I think that it would have benefited from a more balanced and nuanced approach.

This was an excellent rebuttal Soha. I couldn't agree anymore to every point you addressed. I am as amazed as you are of how little those "intellectuals" know about the Egyptian situation, yet they do not refrain from making assumptions and conclusions that are far away from reality. Very similarly, a few months ago Chomsky gave remarks about the situation in Egypt where he started saying: I am by no means an expert, and everything I say today is refused by all my intellectual secular progressive Egyptian friends! Well, hello? How about revisiting your notes given that people on the ground see things differently?
I believe that Egyptians saw MB as imminent threat to the national state, I would even argue that democracy was not on the agenda of the millions who took to the streets on June 30th.
Thanks Soha

The author here uses the well known tactic whereby lenghening the argument and fracturizing it can empty it of true content. What happened in Egypt was during and immediately after the revolution the majority of the laypeople in Egypt started to dream of the establihment of a pluralistic, inclusive meritocracy where cronyism, nepotism and bribery would be abolished. Here if you worked hard you would get ahead, easy and dirty money would be abolished, and the social safety net would be established. What they got was totally different. They had defacto replaced a defective and greedy group who acted in the name of stability with another contemptuous defective and greedy group who used religion as their subjugating force. Furthermore the idea of fracturing of the state (the so-called new middle east) was terrifying to them. Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen and even Tunis bear ongoing witness to this. The current caretakers have emphazied this and the predominantly female turnout in the referendum indirectly displays this fear.
Furthermore Morsi's attack on the very identity of the Egyptian people increased their wariness of his actions and as suspicions grew, his house of cards eventually collapsed. I really do believe that Morsi had an initial reform plan or at the least a reformist pluralistic idea, but that he was terrorized and subjugated by the more powerful elders in the brotherhood. He has only himself to blame.
Egypt now has a chance to continue the transition process followed by many successful democracies (as in Latin America) whereby a nationalistic president pulls the state together as best as possible while transforming along a path of less resistance to the best result achievable and not the best result possible. Thank you and In Shaa Allah we will be fine.

Egyptian liberals killed Egyptian democracy. Specifically, their unholy alliance with the very same military/(in)security state they worked so hard to overthrow only a few short years ago. They got in bed with snakes and are shocked (SHOCKED) that the snakes are now starting to bite them. Or as Camus said, “Totalitarian tyranny is not built on the virtues of autocrats but on the faults of liberals.”

Librals fought hard to win the presidency election but the reality is they don't have bases, they only got loud voice in TV shows so they lost. Then they wanted to overthrow the elected president and the government, neither the government nor the president - not even Muslim Brotherhood have called for a religious government nor have interest in doing so in the future. Librals model is seeing Egypt collapses and democracy killed forever is better than seing a person who wears a beard in power (any power, even a chairman of a company). My conclusion is even if Egypt had a REAL democratic libral president that worked toward establishing democracy and un-rooting/cleaning corruption would be doomed to coupe; the Egyptian Army estabilishment and its allies in Egypt and abroad would not tolerate that.   

Dear Boston Review,

Your verdict on Egypt's political crisis needs to take into account the short-comings of presidential government. I dont know much about other nations, the USA included, but I do know a bit about the practical application of democracy, wherever it may be desired.

In the ancient Greek tyranny, the tyrant was elected but
once elected was given sweeping powers. This is what Hailsham, in The Dilemma of Democracy, meant by an "elective dictatorship."

Solon, founder of Greek democracy, was wiser. Chosen by Athens to make the constitution, his friends urged him to take absolute power.
He replied that a mountain top was a fine enough prospect, not so, getting down.

Not only new democracies but the the United States and the rest of the West need a more mature democracy. At present, election "campaigns" are like ritual battles, in which one side is the victor. The politicising of the civil service in the UK suggests a movement towards the American spoils system. That is spoils of victory.

In Switzerland, the government itself, as well as the legislature, is proportionly representative of the people. Swiss local participation also ensures the necessary well-informed public for good decision-making.

This system is something like the local government of Cambridge, Mass.
In fact, the city uses the best and, to tell the truth, really only satisfactory, form of PR, the single transferable vote, which allows order of choice across divisions, party or religion, whatever, and therefore affords a measure of unity in diversity.
This is the missing ingredient in so many conflicts.
No single group gets all its own way to steam-roller the opposition.
Different factions have to actually think about how they are to accommodate each others wishes.

But I heard (on the STV-voting email group) that the Massachusetts state government banned the use of proportional representation in other parts of the state. They have quarantined intelligent politics.
If you cannot get state legislators to lift this indefensible ban, well at least you could embarress the blighters, till they do!
If the state government regards STV/PR as illegal, why dont they ban it from Cambridge, including the thirty thousand deluded personnel of MIT? If not, why are they banning it at all?

Their attitude is just like that of my countrys government.
The UK would have done far more good for Northern Ireland, if it had not so little tolerated power-sharing proportional representation elsewhere.
(The Palestine Liberation Organisation sent observers to the power-sharing peace settlement.)

In the nation with the most experience of STV/PR, the Irish
Constitutional Convention has overwhelmingly reaffirmed their support for this system. It is not going to go away, however hard law-makers try to make laws to abolish an idea.
The West would do far more good for the world if it set a good example of the STV/PR system of peace-making power-sharing elections, plus informative local decision-making.

If any country is ill equipped to embark on democracy and the rule of law, it is Egypt. The Egyptian people have been ruled by foreigners and local tyrants for 1000s of years, and it is not really realistic to think that there is any understanding there of individual rights, or what the rule of law means.
Even so, when the Obama administration turned a blind eye to the Egyptian army’s slaughter of thousands of civilians it exposed the hypocrisy and opportunism that has become American foreign policy.
You can’t avoid the conclusion that the US shares the blame for the failure of Egyptian democracy.
While you can’t say Obama killed the Egyptian Revolution, you can’t deny his hand in these sad events.

your article is one of the best I read, inspired me to comment http://abdelsalam-elshazly.blogspot.com/2014/02/comment-on-article-of-mr...

To replace by a brotherhood results in a nobility whereas to replace enmass results in commons and lords with a primer presiding.

What killed Egyptian democracy? Islam killed Egyptian democracy. If we in the Judeo/Christian world are not careful, Islam will also kill democracy here.

From what we see in Kansas, Idaho, Arizona, etc; it seems Christianity, not Islam, is attempting to kill democracy here.

Beyond macro democracy are thousands of micro dictatorships if not benevolent are working there way toward democratic form. American democracy of the 19th Century was one in which government toleration of tyrants changed to one more civilized.

In a democracy all are democrats including its tyrants who disguise themselves in the complex garb of democrats under the banner of an interest group.

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