Egyptians Struggle with Democracy versus Freedom

“There is no happiness for people at the expense of other people” – Anwar Sadat

I was on vacation last week and didn’t get a chance to post … it turns out that vacationing with three kids is more hectic and time-consuming than my regular life. The week saw a lot of developments … we’ll start digging out now.

Probably the largest headline grabber has been the military coup and overthrow of the Egyptian government of Mohammed Morsi (and, by extension, the Muslim Brotherhood). The political currents here are tumultuous, and the entrenched interests are many, but the primary power brokers in this clash appear to be the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, each of which wants autocratic control of the country (though they’ll deny it). On that front I’m hard pressed to take sides.

The dust up and the U.S. reaction (or non-reaction, depending) does shine an interesting light on the difference between democracy and freedom. We often conflate the two, but they are obviously not the same.

What the Muslim Brotherhood sees when it sees democracy is a path to unfettered control. That is, if they can simply win the election, they can impose whatever they will on the people. After all, “elections have consequences” and winning an election means you rule the country, right?

It seems the rest of Egypt didn’t see it that way. Unwilling to live under the Morsi government’s continued encroachment on individual liberties, the country has revolted again and the military “stepped in” to ensure stability. Now, the military obviously stepped in to ensure their own power. Still, the move appears to only have been possible because of massive public outcry against the Brotherhood and their policies.

At present the Islamists are not going quietly, rioting in the streets, demanding the return of Morsi. I don’t see that happening, but I also don’t see these guys being quelled by political accommodation. This could get a fair bit uglier before tensions subdue.

So, what is the solution? Well, naturally the American will suggest a constitution that ensures individual liberties (like freedom of religion). This naturally cuts against the goals of the Islamists, so one suspects it won’t fly. Still, that seems to be the only solution that will satisfy the rest of the country and support a return to democracy. Short of that, interim control by a military-appointed overseer and a calming of tensions – followed by a purge of Islamists before free elections are held again. Wonder how that will turn out …

Freedom and democracy. It seems the Egyptians struggle with the same conflicts that we do. Folks win elections and they want the power to make the rest of the country submit to the “will of the majority”. I mean, what’s the point of winning an election if you don’t get to be “king for an election cycle”?

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