Lessons to Keep Egyptian Democracy Afloat

A recent diplomatic dispute over activity along the Egyptian-Israeli border and the subsequent populist outrage in the streets of Cairo means it is time to re-evaluate the future of Egyptian democracy, at least in the short-term.

Today, it has become clear that for Egyptian democracy to survive, it has to be cultivated in a stable, peaceful environment. In order for that to happen, the Egyptian military will have to step in and uphold the laws of Egypt’s secular institutions as well as enforce its peace treaties. The absence of such a setting could spell trouble for the Egyptian-Israeli relationship, Egyptian moderates, and Egyptian democratic ambitions.

As I have previously stated on PolicyMic, in order to see the future of Egyptian party politics, one must look no further than Egypt’s neighbor Israel. Both countries share diverse, opinionated populations.

But religiously affiliated parties, led by the Muslim Brotherhood, seek to transform Egypt’s relationship with its Jewish neighbor from one of peace and prosperity to one of hostility and discord. As the infant democratic Egypt dips its toes into the pool of liberty, it cannot afford to be splashed. A conflict with Israel would do irreparable damage to the newborn notion of democracy in Egypt and devastate Egypt’s already poor economy.

In order for Egyptian democracy to survive in any form, it must endure a similar “Turkish Period,” wherein Islamic pressures are kept separate from Egypt’s secular institutions at the hands of the military class. To do so should not be seen as an admittance of defeat for Egyptians who dream of a free and fair state. Today, Turkey is a stable, economically flourishing Muslim country with a significant portion of its population wholeheartedly devoted to its democratic institutions. Given time, Egypt’s “Turkish period” will help develop a stronger, secular-minded middle class, and Egypt, too, shall witness greater prosperity.

The key for Egypt will be finding an appropriate balance between Turkey’s once-influential and proactive military leadership and America’s civilian-controlled armed forces. Perhaps Egypt’s military could stand merely to uphold the constitution — assuming there will be one — similar to a supreme court but with claws. The idea would not be for the military to prevent democracy, but for it to restrict democracy just enough to prevent it from causing it to destroy itself. There could still be independent parties of every nature, a parliament, and an executive. However, it could be mandated that a set number of military officials — chosen from within the military leadership — sit on the constitutional courts and temper the conservative whims of the masses. 

Photo Credit: Daniel Bender