Thursday, 10 February 2011

Egypt Not Ready for Democracy?

The mind boggles at the recently appointed Egyptian vice presidents latest gaff. In his view, Egyptians aren't ready for democracy because there isn't a 'culture of democracy' in Egypt. If there is any place in the world that is ready for democracy, and which has clearly demonstrated its readiness, it is Egypt. The extent of democratic action that Egypt has seen in the past three weeks ranks it at the higher levels of readiness for democracy. The sheer numbers and diversity of people out in the street are the strongest indicators of the state of readiness that Egypt has arrived at.  The message from the demonstrators is clear - the time for change is now! 

Yet the regime has refused to move with the people - perhaps the strongest indicator that the regime itself is not ready for democracy, and not the people. Indeed, how does one re-orientate the institutional trajectories upon which a dictatorship is founded to support democracy at large within the populace. It is the regime that is completely unprepared for true democracy, as the regime never intended to bring about real change, preferring to maintain widespread power precisely through denying democratic freedoms.  To put it simply, the vice president's comments reveal more about the state, as it currently exists, than the people of Egypt. Egyptians have clearly demonstrated that they understand what democracy is based on.  Perhaps the strongest indicator of this is that the demonstrations themselves have been largely peaceful, and the protestors have not resorted to the self-same methods of intimidation that have been used against them. Instead, they have chosen the Gandhi/Martin Luther King model of peaceful resistance, and to occupy the moral highground in dealing with the state. If Egypt isn't ready for democracy then perhaps nowhere on this planet is.

All my friends who have had children weren't ready to be parents because having never experienced it they could not grow into the role of parenting, but now that they've had their children they are becoming good parents. Yes, they make mistakes, but they're learning and growing all the time. Embracing democracy is the same - you need to be immersed in it, and in all its difficulties, to start figuring out how to negotiate the transition to democracy.  The Egyptian situation is the same ... they need democracy now so they can start figuring out what it means to them ... and the same is true for the whole region. Only once they have freedom, will they transition to dealing with the challenges that democracy brings.


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