We start the New Year looking back on the recent past. In January 2011 massive popular protests forced Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak from power. Some observers thought Egypt was on a secure path to democracy. Today Mubarak is gone, but the old regime’s security apparatus has a firm grip on power. What went wrong?
In our forum, Mohammad Fadel, associate professor of law at the University of Toronto, proposes an explanation: revolutionaries, liberals in particular, suffered from an excess of idealism. They would have been better served by recognizing a crucial insight about the importance of political compromise—an insight embraced by a range of political theorists, from Ibn Khaldūn to John Rawls. Revolutionary liberals should have focused on procedural democracy and social peace, not their first-best solution. This hard political fact may be disappointing, but, Fadel argues, it is crucial to democratic politics in Egypt (and elsewhere).
Respondents to Fadel’s essay assign blame differently: from Morsi’s leadership, to political psychology, to class divisions. In the end Anne Norton reminds us that the challenge of democratic transition requires courage, “not just for revolution, but for the hard work of living with one’s enemies.”
Fadel first presented the ideas for his essay last September at the University of Denver’s Center for Middle East Studies and began the debate with Micheline Ishay there. We are grateful to the Center’s Nader Hashemi and Danny Postel for bringing this work to our attention.
Looking forward: philosopher Mark Johnston takes on the large question of humanity’s survival in his essay on Sam Scheffler’s Death and the Afterlife (“Is Life a Ponzi Scheme?”). Should our knowledge of the eventual destruction of the earth after our deaths change how we value of our lives? Johnston says no. Read the essay and find out why—it might make you enjoy the new year even more.
Finally, one goodbye. This issue includes Pam Karlan’s last column (for now), as she moves to a job at the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. But don’t worry. We’re expecting her back when her work there is done. Meanwhile, if you’re missing what she has to say about constitutional law, you can get a copy of her new book, A Constitution for All Times, published this month.
All best wishes for the new year.