Mohammed Morsi’s election: has democracy really won the day?

The electoral success of Mohammed Morsi confirms that last year's "Arab Spring" has been, gone, and given way to an "Islamist Spring"

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How do you define democracy?
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Valentina Colombo
On 3 July 2012 13:06

Morsi concluded his acceptance speech with the following promise: "... I will not betray Allah in you, would not betray Allah in you and would not disobey Him in my country". Does he mean that he will safeguard Egypt from violating the dictates of divine law? If that is the case, the commitments he expressed to protect human rights, women and minorities, will only be kept in accordance with his interpretation of sharia.

Morsi’s words have been quite clear. It is therefore surprising to see international congratulations pouring in to the new President. Barack Obama called "... to congratulate him on his victory in the presidential elections of Egypt" and to reaffirm that "... the U.S. will continue to support the transition of Egypt toward democracy."

In response to those who argued that Egypt’s election of a Muslim Brotherhood President showed that the Arab Spring was a debacle, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney responded: “... we judge individuals and parties that are elected in a democratic process by their actions, not by their religious affiliation.” He is missing the point – it is not the Muslim Brotherhood’s religious affiliation that is the issue, it is its political ideology that calls for theocracy, not democracy.

Italian Foreign Minister Terzi described Morsi’s election "... a step forward in strengthening the institutions and strengthen the friendship with Rome."

Even the leaders of the Egyptian Coptic community did not stumble in the rush to congratulate Morsi for proclaiming he would be the President of all Egyptians.

Unfortunately all these words of praise reflect wishful thinking. As Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen remarked, “... democracy, to use the old Millian phrase, is "government by discussion,” and voting is only one part of a broader picture (an understanding that has, alas, received little recognition in post-intervention Iraq in the attempt to get straight to polling without the development of broad public reasoning and an independent civil society)”.

Western governments should similarly pay more heed to what is happening in Tunisia under a MB-dominated government. Bechir ben Hassen, a pro-government religious preacher, recently stated that "... the project of Islam is incompatible with their [the opposition’s] ideology, with their culture. You tell me that they claim to be Muslims because they have made a profession of faith. I answer: what's the point, when in practice they perform actions that are contrary to the will of God? Therefore they are enemies of God, enemies of Islam ".

In other words, government preachers are teaching that whoever opposes the current government is an apostate, which means he is punishable by death under sharia law.  Can we call all this democracy? Is this the democracy for which thousands of Tunisians and Egyptians have been killed, injured and imprisoned?

Tariq Alhomayed, editor of Asharq al-awsat, has written this week:

"... Following the victory of the MB candidate, Muhammad Morsi in Egypt's presidential [elections], Egypt and the entire region have entered a new and dangerous stage, whose consequences only Allah can predict. Anyone who feels optimistic ... and thinks we are watching a movie that is sure to have a happy ending, is mistaken and anyone who watches from the sidelines and thinks this is a purely Egyptian affair ... is not just mistaken but also negligent.

[…] Some might claim that the military will be Egypt's guarantee, along with the country's strong judiciary. This is true, but we must remember that Egypt's president is now from the MB; in other words, the MB is ruling the country. That is the reality and it will have far-reaching consequences on the political, economic, social, religious and cultural levels – not just in Egypt, but throughout the Arab region. Anyone who says that the MB is the reality, so we must deal with it and not criticise it and other such talk, is mistaken – for those who enter the political playing field must remember that it is always permissible [to criticise them]”.

Unfortunately this will not be mere passing turbulence: the Muslim Brotherhood has always stated that once they reach the power they will not easily relinquish it.

Whoever today praises the victory of democracy in Egypt should heed the words of liberal Egyptian intellectual, Adel Guindy, who has written: “... To compare Christian democratic parties with Islamic democratic parties in our countries is as if to compare water with sulfuric acid”.

Valentina Colombo is a Senior Fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels

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