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It’s still a work in progress

india Updated: Jul 02, 2013 03:49 IST
Egypt military

The first anniversary of Egypt’s first democratically elected government is proving almost as tumultuous and violent as the street protests that brought that democracy about in the first place.

The protesters calling for the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi’s government number between 10 to 15 million, matching if not exceeding the numbers that brought down the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak nearly three years ago.

Mr Morsi has admitted he has made mistakes, including a decree that gave him sweeping presidential powers. He has also distanced himself from amendments that have given the constitution Islamicist overtones.

But this has come too late. There is now a deep-rooted sense among secular and urban voters that his vision of Egypt is too strongly coloured by his most loyal political base, the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Morsi is not yet in danger of losing power. A large chunk of the Egyptian population still supports him. His opposition, which includes everything from militant football fans to ultra-liberal artists and elements of the Mubarak regime, do not share a vision of a post-Morsi regime.

The international community, including the West and other Arab states, are supportive of the Cairo regime.

This is understandable: whatever his faults, Mr Morsi remains an elected head of a constitutional democracy. The success of democracy is strongly dependent on a willingness to accept that the winner of an election should not be replaced by any means other than another election or, at worst, an apolitical judicial process.

The Egyptian president repeatedly makes this argument and it is a sound one. The turmoil in Egypt — reflected in similar political instability in other ‘Arab spring’ nations like Libya and Tunisia — is a reminder that liberal democracy is more than just about holding elections.

It is a political culture with several elements: the acceptance of constitutional limits, the concept of a loyal opposition, and a recognition that there are areas of society — notably in the economic and cultural sphere — where the state’s role should be constrained. To have such a culture become accepted and understood by a society is much more difficult than distributing ballots and collecting ballot boxes.

After over 60 years, Indian democracy is still far from being considered a finished product. For a country like Egypt, civilisationally old but a novice in the ways of constitutional democracy, this path has just begun.

Mr Morsi deserves to stay. Not because he has been a good leader — if anything, he has shown a poor understanding of what a fledgling democracy requires from its first president.

He deserves to stay because his overthrow through street violence would set a terrible precedent for Egypt’s nouveau democracy. The learning curve that includes the present protests and the reigning president only strengthen the case for this status.