Defining Democracy

Egypt in Turmoil

Farooque Chowdhury

Blood and fire now dominate democracy scene in Egypt. Deaths question democracy's journey in the land of the Nile. Questions of democracy remain unresolved. Violence has now widened the gap between aspiration and actions for democracy further. And, fundamental aspects related to democracy have once again been reiterated by the bloody, brutal incidents in Cairo and across the country.

For weeks, since the army reasserted its role in politics in Egypt, questions of democracy were turning clouded. Questions revolved around army's role and external actors' support in democracy's journey.

A political move—the army's re-stepping in—was the yardstick of democracy or militaryocracy to a section while another concentrated on external move—US support or not. While one rejected the army's move as if the army had not played any role in earlier incidents during the overthrow of Mubarak and during election understandings, as if befriending this army was not aspired and was not made during a stage of anti-Mubarak uprising. Another turned staunch anti-US as if US support was never sought in the journey for democracy. What would have happened had the army stood by the Morsi camp instead of deposing him? And, what would have happened had the US extended full-fledged support to the Morsi camp? How would have the question of democracy in Egypt been defined if, for the sake of argument the army tomorrow reaches to Morsi camp and the US publicly extends its hands of friendship to the camp'? How it would have been defined had a people upsurge without army support overthrown Morsi?

Defining democracy on a narrow scale support—of army and of the US or no support shall not help resolving the question. Questions of democracy in Egypt are rooted in the society, among the classes in the society competing for allocation. While defining democracy ignoring the class question shall only bring reliance on external actors, and role of external actors shall appear as the sole yardstick, a confusing measurement, of democracy. Alliance with the US is not only a Mubarak-act. A recently published book based on historical documents shows it's an old practice, since emergence of an organization that now claims democratic space.

Election is one of essential components of democracy. But it's not the only Component. What happens when election does not represent majority or it fails to ensure majority's participation or electoral tactics demolishes possibilities of popular participation? Are not there instances of elections turning tools in the hands of autocrats in countries'?  How shall it be defined if a popular upsurge in some other country overthrows an autocrat who "won" an election engineered by the autocrat? Shall the expression of "popular" aspiration be brushed out?

The reassertion of army's role in Egyptian politics is the problem of the state and the ruling elites. The institution—the army has stepped in as all other institutions of the state have failed to resolve the problem at that moment, and the institution has tried/is trying to resolve the problem. Co-opting all factions of the ruling elites or failure to co-opt them depends on the capacity of the institution and the capacity ultimately comes from the ruling elites. It's the institution's capacity or incapacity to address all interests of all factions of the ruling elites, and all the factions house tycoons and magnets, and the interests are the same, and all the factions stand against the toiling masses. Don’t the Egyptian workers striking now for their rights reaffirm this? Has any of the elite-factions stood by workers' interests—their right over the fruits of their labor, and their opinion on existing production relation, and letting them organized to change the relation in a democratic way? It's not only the question of the workers ; it's also the question of all the masses of the people—the peasantry, the low-salaried employees, the petty traders, the teachers, the unemployed youth, and the women.

This interest—the interest of the masses was not discussed and was not made the yardstick of democracy while defining democracy in the aftermath of reassertion of army's role in the center stage of the Egyptian politics. (Un)fortunately most of the opinions centered on army's intervention or US support.

A democracy stands with a farcical face, and obviously indignities also, when it depends on external actors, actors not dependent on people. With its sole external-dependence it completes a single job demolish, all prospects of democracy. The act confirms its internal weakness, its incapability, the way external actors from other continents meddled in Egyptian politics show infirmness of the social forces standing for democracy. With this infirmness and level of dignity also, evaluating their role in ensuring democracv or denouncing them turns a farce.

Democracy in Egypt, as in many other countries, is not only an issue of election or not. The society, as many other societies, also faces fundamental questions that include widening space for democratic struggle by the people and accepting ideas and concepts that facilitate people's democratic struggle, accepting ideas and concepts, that, assert people's opinion over "production and distribution, which are obviously progressive, which expose fetters on people's interests. Today, the society is going through pains of contradictions between way of looking at reality, the society and economy, the questions of power and privilege forward and backward, behavior and fundamental rights, practice and ownership, authority and subjugation. These questions were not raised by many opinions while welcoming or negating the recent army intervention in the Egyptian politics. Otherwise, at least, after the mass upsurge against Mubarak, women in Egypt would have faced less harassment and felt safe in public life. All the forces claiming for democracy would have ensured a dignified and safe space for women. It's an important indicator of a society striving for democracy. Other questions of organizing people's organizations, people's supervision over commons, questions of tycoons and magnets are there also. Tycoons and magnets don't befriend people, the wretched, Tycoons are in all camps; it's not only a Mubarak camp phenomenon. Now, a Mubarak-friend-steel-tycoon is behind bar.

Recent turmoil in Egypt has shown one aspect of global power—its limits, its lack of preparedness. All the time global power can ensure all moves conducive to its interests. All its wishes are not easily ensured. All the time it can't; easily satisfy all factions looking at it for support. It's turning difficult.

And, planting democracy is not an easy job although moves to cast off an autocrat are designed by some Sharp-mind, as is often told. Doesn't today's Egypt show this?

The deaths the recent Egyptian days have witnessed, the blood that has flowed through the Egyptian political scape, the acts of arson, the brutality and intolerance tarnish endeavor for democracy as these are the products of the political elites' failure that makes common people fodder of elite-politics. The acts of setting churches on fire nowhere and never upholds struggle for democracy.

Violence moves with its shadow, a dark shadow of violence. Political stroke of violence is made when other political stokes appear useless, a dangerous symptom. Democracy's journey is complicated and tumultuous. But, the recent violence and deaths standing as obstacle shall make Egypt's democracy journey more complicated, which will ultimately hinder people's interest; people will find it difficult to widen their breathing space. And, this is one of the ways ruling elites transfer their burden of failure on lives of people. The pattern shall prevail until people's own initiatives, organization and leadership for democracy develop.

Vol. 46, No. 9, Sep 8 - 14, 2013

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