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Egyptians Need to Learn Democracy Is Imperfect

07/08/2013 12:12 EDT | Updated 09/07/2013 05:12 EDT
AP

Last week, Canadians and Americans celebrated their respective independence days, and the democratic way of life in general, with a time-honoured tradition: Fireworks. In Cairo's Tahrir Square last week, there was celebration and lighting of fireworks, too -- so, clearly, the Western way is making some inroads in the Arab Middle East.

What remains unclear is how the jubilation surrounding the exit of Mohammed Morsi relates to independence and democracy. Call it what you want -- a military coup, a revolution, a coupvolution (revo-coup-tion?) -- but what is happening in Egypt cannot be an expression of independence and democracy both. It's either or.

Morsi, Egypt's now ex-president, was elected with 51.7 per cent of the popular vote in May 2012. His brief tenure, prior to being ousted and arrested by a less-than-trustworthy military that just a year ago was viewed by Egyptians, quite correctly, as the main impediment to the establishment of democracy in the aftermath of Hosni Mubarak's eviction, was certainly a mixed-bag: Egypt's economy continued to flounder under his leadership, and he was rightly accused of attempting to grab too much power for himself and his Muslim Brotherhood party. As for the Brotherhood's Islamist agenda, it goes without saying that it is not reliably in line with the fundamental rights to freedom of belief and expression at the core of democracy.

But there was more to, well, Morsi. For all the concern about his Islamism, he was key to the brokering of a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in November of last year after more than a week of grueling shelling that left over 160 dead. This was no small feat and signaled perhaps Egypt could once again bravely lead on Arab-Israeli peace, as it did more than 30 years ago when Sadat and Begin shook hands at the White House, two years after the former's courageous visit to Israel.

As for Egypt's sundry domestic problems -- the country's desperate economic state is the product of many failures, among them low literacy levels and over-reliance on a tourism industry that has been battered by exactly the kind of unpredictability now on demonstration in the streets -- frankly, it's unfair to pin that on Morsi given a) the short amount of time he was given to work out a solution, and b) the depths to which Egypt sunk under Mubarak. No matter who leads next, it will take decades to fix Egypt, not a single year. Egyptians need to recognize this, and show some patience.

In short, Morsi was bad, but sometimes not so bad, and that's pretty well par for the course. Just as we are imperfect, so are our leaders, and so is democracy, the nature of which is that not everyone gets what they want all the time. Indeed, in order for the system to work, voters have to be OK with losing -- and trying again, maybe a little bit harder, to win next time. Clearly, this is a concept many Egyptians are having trouble grasping.

The deposing of Morsi came too soon, and at the hands of an institution that's no stranger to abusing power (the military insists it has no desire to run the country -- you should be at least a little skeptical of that). This was demonstrably not an act of democracy. But that doesn't mean it hasn't been an inspiring display.

Two weeks ago, I lamented Canada's pathetic protest movement -- that faced with, among other ills, Conservative mischief in Ottawa, the possibility of a renewed abortion debate in Parliament, a combative Toronto mayor reviled by so many and a city, Montreal, run into the ground by criminals, Canadians haven't felt the need to muster any sort of large, vociferous public displays of displeasure.

Ostensibly, most of us are content with the knowledge we'll have the chance to make our disappointment known at the polls soon enough, but what about in the meantime? Our complacency is why Egyptians' political engagement has been moving to watch, even if they don't seem to fully understand the rules of the democracy game just yet.

There is a happy democratic medium between deposing an elected leader after one mildly unsuccessful year on the job and shrugging off inept leadership as inevitable and unchangeable, at least until the next mandated vote. Egypt, if it is to become a successful democracy, needs to find that place. So do we.

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Egypt Protests Morsi's First Year