July 9, 2013

Egypt's crisis widens debate on democracy in Middle East

The president's removal casts doubt on whether Arab Spring ideals are right for the region, given the array of forces there.

The Associated Press

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Supporters of the ousted Egypt's President Mohammed Morsi pray during a protest in Nasr City, a suburb of Cairo, Egypt, Tuesday July 9, 2013. After days of deadlock, Egypt's military-backed interim president named a veteran economist as prime minister on Tuesday and appointed pro-democracy leader Mohamed ElBaradei as a vice president, while the army showed its strong hand in shepherding the process, warning political factions against “maneuvering” that impedes the transition. (AP Photo/Manu Brabo)

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On Monday, the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera -- an important opinion shaper -- held an online forum to discuss whether Western-style democracy in the region has suffered a setback because of the rejection of Morsi, who has been held in an undisclosed location since last week.

On the webcast, London-based political analyst Mamoon Alabbassi noted the apparent failures of Morsi's government -- including Egypt's stumbling economy -- but feared the precedent of letting the streets decide when a government should go.

This circles back to the heart of Egypt's crisis: the claim by Morsi's opponents that it was he -- not they -- who betrayed democracy by allegedly concentrating power among Islamists and excluding others.

In many ways, it speaks to the wider questions of democracy's essence and evolution. Expectations of quick and seamless transitions from authoritarian rule to elections ignore the lessons of history. Through the centuries, post-revolution governments have taken years or longer to shake out.

"We are witnessing a new wave of events that are shaping up the Arab Spring and Arab revolutions. ... We should not be surprised to see a long way until we reach an Arab democratic system," said Nabil Bou Moncef, a senior analyst with Lebanon's leading An-Nahar newspaper. "I am not surprised by what is going on. The West fought major wars and had bloody revolutions until they reached the current system."


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