Sunday, April 17, 2011


On the eve of 300 days to go in our Countdown to Egyptian Democracy, the hopes held by many pundits and so-called “experts” that Egyptian democracy was just around the corner must be starting to fade or, at least, come in for some serious questioning. Of course, those who really understand Arab politics and culture counseled all along that there was little likelihood of Western-style democracies suddenly sprouting up in the Middle East.

While the authoritarian regimes of the last 40 or so years need not be the norm, the fact is that there are other models of government that fit better with most Arab societies than Western democracy. Unfortunately, when someone makes this point it is easy to be targeted as a racist or as condescending, or as broadcasting a sense of superiority. Quite the contrary, recognizing that not all societies and cultures are necessarily going to be most comfortable with our Western model of democracy is a sign of  respect. People in other parts of the world can have different ideas about how to govern themselves.

This does not mean they have to be brutal dictatorships or ostensibly religious regimes that oppress women and gays and who disregard basic rights of free speech and belief. It should not be a choice between Western-style democracy and inexcusable repression.

For now, unfortunately, it looks like repression is still alive and well in Egypt. While there has been some loosening up in terms of speech and association, there is no question that the military, out of which Mubarak came and from whom he received his legitimacy, is strongly in control.

While the military has made some fairly easy gestures toward the pro-democracy activists with the arrests of Mubarak and his sons and the release of some prisoners, its behavior in dispersing demonstrators indicates that it intends to exercise firm control and that it has not exactly become a big fan of the basic hallmarks of democratic government. As has been said so many times now as to have become a cliché, just holding an election does not make for a democracy.

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