Monday, February 14, 2011

The Nightmare of Democracy?

    The founding fathers of the United States often referred to it as an experiment in democracy.  These men knew that democracies often self-destruct and as I noted last week, at least one of these men (John Adams) felt that democracy required for the people to be both moral and religious in order to be successful.  In that light, I have been wondering about the current upheaval in Egypt.  Much of the world and many of my friends are rejoicing at the victory of the people in Egypt but I find many reasons to be cautious.  
   
    First, I suppose is simply that often times the devil we know is less frightening than the devil we don’t know.  Mr. Mubarak has recently been denigrated as a ‘tyrant’ but not that long ago he was a ‘valuable ally.’  I don’t keep up to date on the current events in many nations around the world so I admit that I may have missed something, but I am left noticing that there seems to be some revisionist history going on.  It is also important to remember that Egypt has technically been a democratic nation and that Mr. Mubarak was a democratically elected leader despite his recently publicized tyranny.

    Second, it is important to recall that democracy does not always end well.  Historically, there are a number of notable democratic elections that resulted in governments that were far worse than the ones they replaced.  Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party were democratically elected and used the constitution of the Weimar Republic to seize even more power.  In our lifetime we saw that the current theocratic government of Iran was democratically elected (sort of) during the Iranian Revolution but is, in many ways, worse than the monarchy that it replaced.

    Finally, we should be reminded that Americans tend to see the world as Americans who live overseas.  By that I mean that we tend to think that people on the other side of the ocean a) like us and b) want to be like us.  Those of us who have traveled abroad or who have even met people from abroad will have no difficulty in saying that in many cases, neither of these is true.  When it comes to democracy, what works for us may not work for everyone.  What we want is not what the people of Egypt want.  As a result, the government that Egypt ultimately ends up with is not likely to look anything at all like ours, democratically elected or not.

    So what do the people of Egypt want?  The Pew Research Center conducted a major survey of adults in Egypt last year and the results were summarized in Investor’s Weekly

84% favor the death penalty for person leaving the Muslim faith.

82% favor the death penalty for adultery

54% believe that women and men should be segregated in the workplace.

54% believe that suicide bombings that kill civilians can be justified.

Half support the terrorist group Hamas.  

82% dislike the United States.

95% prefer that religion play a “large role” in politics.

    If these are the prevailing opinions of adult Egyptians, then despite any claims to the contrary any democratically elected government is likely to mirror those opinions.  As a result, that government will likely not be all that we, as Americans and as Christians, might hope for.  To me, it seems that any democratically elected government that represented a people that held these values might eventually desire the following structures and policies:

-          Is likely to be highly influenced by the religion of Islam and may incorporate Sharia law.
-          It may not value the personal liberties and equal rights that we assume to be normative.  Women, minorities, and non-Muslims are likely to suffer from discrimination and perhaps even outright persecution.  Under Mubarak, Egypt has not done well in protecting the religious liberties of native Coptic Christians who represent 10% of the population.  A government that openly favors Islam cannot be expected to do better.

-          May well lend government support and financial aid to organizations that we see as terrorist groups.

-          Will almost certainly not be friendly to the interests of the United States.

-          Will likely be hostile to the nation of Israel.

    It is not a foregone conclusion that these things will happen and, in fact, I hope they do not but I realize that what I want is not nearly the same as what the average Egyptian wants.

    Today the Egyptian military officially suspended Egypt’s constitution and dissolved the parliament.  With that, what we have (so far) in Egypt is no less than a military coup.  Our founding fathers knew that democracies often self-destruct.  Democracy was (and is) a dangerous thing.  There are a thousand ways that a democratic government can go horribly wrong and history is full of examples.  Read any newspaper and you can see that it is something that we worry over constantly ourselves.

    I hope that a new government will bring the people of Egypt everything that they hope for.  My fear is that whatever form it takes may not be good news for us, for Israel, and for many Egyptians.

    Please pray for Egypt.


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