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Of ballot boxes and the crowd

January 27, 2014 at 3:26 pm

The public and political rise of the Islamists in the Arab world did not begin with the Arab Spring. In fact, the shift in their favour started in the early nineties in Algeria. The electoral success of the Islamic Salvation Front was met with repression, exclusion and a rebellion against the democratic will of the people.

The alliance of various opposition forces, something which was experienced by Hamas after its victory in the 2006 Palestinian election and is now happening in Egypt, expresses a single idea and the same parties are behind it. They cannot accept the fact that an Islamic movement is given the opportunity to put its experience to use for the public good without any hindrances.

It now seems clear that the majority of the forces opposed to the Islamists in Egypt have chosen to pursue an anti-democracy policy since the election results were announced last year. They neither accepted offers to share and participate in the government, nor are they content with the Islamists governing alone.

Most of the opposition leaders realise that open and fair elections would not be in their favour and so they are trying to impose new rules which would exclude the Islamists from public office. Hence the return to the streets after just one year of a democratically-elected president’s term of office.

It should be understood that the results of a democratic election are not annulled simply because the losing sides dislike the people’s choice. Election winners are given the opportunity to put their manifesto into action; that is, after all, why people voted for them in the first place.

A crowd alone is not enough to determine the political future or impose new rules in a game which recognises pluralism and the delegation of power. For every crowd against a result there is a crowd in favour. Democratic politics cannot and does not take place in street demonstrations alone. Elections must have winners and losers, with the former given the chance to rule and the latter being in opposition with the promise of participation in the next scheduled election. That is how democracy works; to try to impose or suggest otherwise is foolish and undemocratic.

Taking to the streets is how tyrannies are overthrown, not elected governments which preserve the rule of law and a constitution which cannot be changed without the people having their say on its contents. It is astonishing that the Egyptian opposition ignores the results of parliamentary elections and insists on the overthrow of the elected president. Opposition groups seek to delegitimise the votes of the millions of Egyptians; the majority, remember, who voted for the president. How is that democratic?

When crowds on the street have a just cause, they are capable of making political changes and removing corrupt rulers. They can claim to represent the silent oppressed majority. That is clearly not the case with the current demonstrators in Cairo, many of whom carry weapons openly and cause criminal damage. President Morsi has not oppressed the opposition or gone against democracy, but that has not stopped members of the Muslim Brotherhood and their property from being targeted by the mob. His supporters back him out of conviction, not opportunism of the kind demonstrated by the opposition leaders, some of whom were part of the disgraced Mubarak regime.

We know that Morsi’s was a slim majority in the presidential election. Nevertheless, it was a majority and he has the right to lead the country for his term of office and until the next scheduled election. As long as he does not oppress the opposition nobody can say that the demonstrators represent most Egyptians. In any case, they will have the opportunity to express their dissatisfaction at the next election, which will show if they are the majority or not. Those who would disregard the democratic process do so at their peril; if they have no respect for the results of democracy, why should anyone else? Thereby lies a dangerous path to trod if democracy and freedom really are the aims of the current demonstrations.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.