Egyptians Should Give Democracy a Chance to Work

By Ali Younes

When Egyptian president Mohamad Mursi announced his constitutional declaration last November granting himself unchecked powers, as well as announcing his intentions to go ahead with plans of enacting an Islamist-backed constitution he was in effect undermining his own legitimacy in the eyes of those who oppose him. Meanwhile, the Egyptian opposition of secularists, nationalists, women groups, minority groups and those who just hate the Muslim brotherhood went back to Tahrir Square demanding to have their way or no way. As a result, both sides entrenched in their respective positions and engaged in a war of elimination, which led the economy to go from bad to worse and sharply polarizing and dividing the Egyptian society.

President Mursi was elected fair and square in the only democratic election Egyptians ever experienced in the modern era, and he deserves to have his chance at governing. That said however, he should not treat this as a license to undermine the very democracy Egyptians, had sought for decades.

At the same time the Egyptian opposition groups are trying to wrest power from Mursi by forcing him to cancel his controversial decrees that pertain to the constitutional referendum scheduled to take place this coming Saturday. But the manner through which the opposition groups are fighting this battle especially by appealing to foreign powers to intervene on their side is troubling. This kind of divisive political warfare resulted in pushing President Mursi and with him the Muslim brotherhood into a bunker mentality and equally ready for a drawn out, yet unnecessary, fight.

The core problem in Egypt is that no one seems to be interested to give democracy a chance or the time to work or even willing to accept the idea that in a democracy winners and losers can still work together. What’s happening in Egypt today is that every group whether the governing Muslim Brotherhood party, or the opposition of all colors and persuasions are engaged in a zero-sum game or winner take all.

President Mursi is mainly accused of being more interested to consolidate his and the Muslim Brotherhood powers at the expense of others and acting as if he was elected for forty not four years and behaving as if his name is Mohamad Hosni not Mohamad Mursi.

Adding to the problem is that Arab political culture, Egypt included, is still authoritarian and dictatorial despite the trappings of democracy in the post Arab Spring era. This is because politics in the Arab World revolves around the charismatic leader who should save the nation even though he often times ends up destroying it.

Although Mursi is legitimately elected president, he nevertheless needlessly behaves like any unelected authoritarian Arab leader. His presidential announcements and decrees were handed down to the public in the middle of the night and only through his spokespeople. He never tried to consult with the opposition leaders nor did he try to take his case directly to the Egyptian people by speaking to them directly throughout Egypt.

But despite all this Mr. Mursi needs to grow with the job and to be given the chance to chart his own way. After all, he is a transitional president and therefore it is critical to establish a tolerant and enduring political culture even when we don’t like the outcome of a free election.

This is especially true given that democracy in Egypt is still an untested and has yet to mature after decades of dictatorships that ruined the modern Egyptian state and created deep mistrust between government and citizens. It is quite normal, therefore, in this kind of combustible environment to distrust the government especially when this government is the Muslim brotherhoods who are more used to work in secrecy than through transparent and open debate.

As Egyptians are heading to cast their votes this weekend on the planned constitution to approve it or reject it, it should not be treated as the end of the road either way it goes. Constitutions are not made in heavens and can be changed and amended no matter how bad or how great they are. It is critical, for Egyptians therefore to treat the outcome of this vote as part of the painful process of democracy not the end of it. Establishing a new political culture and survive this dark period not only for the good of Egypt but also for the good of the Arab World.

– Ali Younes is Al Arabiya contributing writer and analyst based in Washington D.C. He contributed this article to Contact him at: and on Twitter @clearali.

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