THE BLOG

I Envy Egypt -- And You Should Too

07/08/2013 12:13 EDT | Updated 09/07/2013 05:12 EDT
AP
Democracy: "A system of government by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives." (From Google  definition search)

The first democracy arose in Athens and was a direct one, that is, every eligible citizen had a voice in it. As you can imagine, with tens of thousands of eligible citizens, the democracy could be raucous. The one salient feature of this kind of democracy was that the people participated all the time, not just every few years on voting day.

The biggest criticism of what's going on in Egypt today is that the military went against the democratic process.

"Hours before the army removed Mursi, Mohamed Nufil, a 44-year-old government employee at the same rally, said he was certain the president's supporters would turn to violence if the army aborted what they saw as a legitimate democratic process." (Alexander Dziadosz, The Star Online, 5 July 2013)

"British Prime Minister David Cameron said 'we never support' military intervention. 'But what we need to happen now in Egypt is for democracy to flourish, and for a genuine democratic transition to take place,' he added....President François Hollande, on a visit to Tunisia, said that next door in Egypt 'the democratic process has stopped and must return.'" (CBC News, 5 July 2013)

"Rick Roth, a spokesman for Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird, stated flatly that the ouster of Morsi was 'a coup.'" (Matthew Fisher, Postmedia News, 4 July 2013)

But President Mohammed Morsi was acting a little Harper-like. He dismissed the protests as if what millions of people wanted didn't matter in a democracy.

"As tensions rose over the following days, Mursi [sic] remained defiant. In a final telephone conversation with armed forces commander General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Wednesday, the president laughed and made light of mass demonstrations against him, a military source said.

"He just didn't believe what was going on," the source familiar with Sisi's contacts said. Any hope that the bearded, bespectacled Mursi would call a referendum on his own future or go quietly, had evaporated." (Yasmine Saleh and Paul Taylor, Reuters, 5 July 2013)

We have become so used to seeing democracy as only by representation, only through elections of politicians, that we forget that direct democracy was the original incarnation and the only model that truly represents the population.

In Canada, we know how much the first-past-the-post system of democracy distorts the will of the people; other countries' electoral systems better represent the voting decision of eligible citizens. Yet neither exactly expresses the populace's political views as direct democracy does.

When I turned on the television news and saw every road in the wide-angle picture filled building-to-building with people, my jaw dropped. An Egyptian official on one news show said that 33 million people had taken to the street to express their desire that the military oust President Morsi.  That's over one-third of Egypt's population, far more representative of the people than the less than one thousand elected representatives who, by definition, cannot represent exactly the views of every citizen in their constituency.

"The good news is that around the world, coups now more frequently result in a quick return to the normal democratic process than in the bad old days of the Cold War." (Joshua E. Keating, Winnipeg Free Press, 5 July 2013)

That "normal democratic process" is not direct democracy but representational democracy. Not democracy at the timing of the people, but at the timing of the politicians who have set the election laws. Not democracy in the street, but in the legislative houses.

Not democracy when over a third of the people speak up, but when fewer and fewer eligible citizens vote and only express their political decisions during elections every four to five years while in between elections they grumble and feel powerless.

In addition, a 21st-century democracy does not and should not include the disenfranchisement of women, the stripping of their human rights.

Unfortunately, the situation in Egypt has escalated to violence. They have not learnt the art of peaceful negotiations, which Canada excels at. Yet I suggest that the normal democratic process in Canada is in need of Egyptian-style direct democracy.

Oh, not the military intervention part -- that is so not us, thank goodness -- but the part where Egyptians flooded the streets to demand their leaders pay attention to the increasing oppression of women, the stagnating economy, the loss of hope for a better future.

Canadians blog and tweet, but we do not cover Parliament Hill with protestors. Our lives are comfy in comparison to the Egyptians, so maybe that's why we do not protest. Yet there must be a sense of powerlessness, of hopelessness even among the comfy for fewer and fewer Canadians to be going to the polls.

Yet is there any point to us protesting? Given how Prime Minister Stephen Harper treats the media and doesn't talk directly to all Canadians -- his recent Twitter overhaul notwithstanding -- we could assume he'd be as democratically-deaf as  President Morsi was. Yet Prime Minister Harper grew up in our tradition of politicians leading only at the pleasure of the people. We forget that.

If Canadians flooded the streets like the Egyptians did, our combined physical action would cause us and our leaders to believe we are active participants in our democracy, like when Solange Denis and masses of people forced former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney to back down from de-indexing pensions. We are not just voters to be pandered to.

Our sense of powerlessness is a signal that we need to revitalize our democracy in the Canadian way. The Canadian way is peaceful, includes respectful negotiation, healthy debate. But it also used to include big protests. Instead of denouncing the direct democratic actions of Egyptians, perhaps the pundits and Canadian leaders should be asking themselves: how can we re-enfranchise Canadians to participate as willingly and energetically in their country as Egyptians are in theirs?

Egypt Protests Morsi's First Year