Experiment with democracy

Experiment with democracy

Egypt is in turmoil. So is the world. What's happening in the Middle East's biggest country mirrors developments elsewhere, caused by...

Egypt is in turmoil. So is the world. What's happening in the Middle East's biggest country mirrors developments elsewhere, caused by unemployment, rising prices, raging inflation and disillusionment with the government and its leaders' inability to govern people whose expectations and hopes for a better future are sky high. Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi, who completed one year in office on June 30, is under tremendous pressure from another people's movement to quit. Demonstrations, protests and rallies in and around Tahrir Square in central Cairo that were instrumental in toppling President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 have returned to demand Mursi's resignation. The only difference between then and now is the spontaneity with which the anti-Mubarak movement had been built up by the Egyptian youth and the way anti-Mursi protests are being organized by Tamarod � a loose alliance of secularists, leftists, liberals and all those who oppose Mursi and his Islamic Brotherhood party � whose sole aim is to force the President to step down from office. Sunday's massive anti-government protests that rocked the capital and other cities which also claimed a few casualties were the first of its kind since the Revolution. They were also reminiscent of Arab Spring that led to the ouster of Mubarak and all his men and paved the way for elections and a new parliament that brought the Brotherhood to power. Now, Mursi's opponents want to replicate the 2011 success by mobilizing people and launching a signature campaign to force Mursi to give up his position; a move the President and his supporters oppose tooth and nail, on the ground that he had been elected constitutionally to the highest position of the land for four years and he should be allowed to function. But Tamarod is in no position to relent nor prepared to hold talks with the government on resolving the country's problems. On the other hand, the young and frustrated rebels claim to have collected 15 million signatures to be presented to the Supreme Constitutional Court to declare no-confidence in Mursi and appoint an interim head of state until fresh elections are held. Tamarod has also called for civil disobedience movement as part of its agitation against the government. Though it has opposition parties' support, Tamarod has failed to gather momentum so far. Reason? Either Tamarod or its opposition backers, including the much respected El Baradei, former chairman of International Atomic Energy Agency, have no answers to 'what next' if Mursi goes without completing his term. Even if mid-term polls are held, there is no guarantee that a progressive and forward-looking team would hold the reins. Which means an uncertain future looms large over Egypt. It is also wrong for Egyptians to think that they can change the government and recall the President whenever they want to, disregarding democratic principles on which the State is supposed to have been running after Mubarak stepped down. At the same time, Mursi should not have promised his people the moon within 100 days of assuming power. No leader, however popular he is, can deliver, let alone fulfill, all the big promises one makes before getting elected. But for votes' sake and to play to the gallery, leaders, whatever their brand of politics may be, raise people's aspirations so much that they start looking for excuses to defend themselves against public wrath. Mursi is no exception. On the eve of massive protest in Cairo, he told an invited audience, "From day one, I have been facing conspiracies, one after another, to topple me as Egypt's first freely and democratically elected President. How can the best of leaders make major achievements in such a poisonous atmosphere? In just one year, there have been up to 4,900 strikes and 22 calls for a million protests. The ex-associates of the ousted regime are plotting for the collapse of the State." In fact, nobody needs to plot against him with the country's problems multiplying to such an extent that either Mursi has to find a quick-fix solution or hand over power to another leader acceptable to a majority of people which is unlikely in the present scenario. Alternatively, he has to use force to suppress the street protests that may prove detrimental and turn the military and the judiciary against him. He is in a catch-22 situation. So is the country where economic stagnation, rising food prices, falling revenues, including from once-lucrative tourism sector, little investment, daily strikes for one thing or another, and increasing crime rate, have become ingredients for a potential explosive situation. President Mursi may or may not fend off the crisis building up in front of the presidential palace in Cairo. But what is apparent is his experiment with democracy in an Islamic way appears to have few takers and the people have no patience to wait and watch him complete his full term without getting anything in return. Though his Muslim Brotherhood party had been given a convincing majority in last year's elections and Mursi allowed to effect constitutional changes, the Egyptians, at least a certain percentage of them, demand his resignation on the basis of signature campaign that collected millions of opposition signatures. The drive may represent the will of the people; but does it really reflect the reality? That is debatable in a democratic polity. For, it has wider implications in the democratic world. "Power to recall" is an appealing idea to 'punish' the corrupt public representatives; but the system can be easily manipulated and misused by none other than the rivals, who in turn can become victims of opposition in no time. It is worse than political horse-trading. The ongoing crisis in Egypt has some lessons for fledgling democracies in the Arab world: Getting rid of autocrats and monarchs may be easier than establishing a full-fledged democracy and it is equally painful to nurse it to healthy growth until it takes firm roots. Failure of efforts leads to paving the way for regimented rule. Already, the military is waiting in the wings and has given a 48-hour ultimatum to Mursi to resolve the crisis, putting the country on edge.
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