Coup in Egypt

What happened in Egypt yesterday is deeply disturbing. Whenever a democratically elected government, however rotten or reviled, is overthrown by a military coup, it’s a setback for the country and for democracy.

The world cheered when the Mubarak regime was toppled in 2011, and rightly so. But the hard work really begins after a dictator is overthrown. The transition to democracy takes time and practice in part because, as Václav Havel said,

“… democracy is not just systems, institutions, and their inter-relations; in other words, it’s not just a technique but above all it is a relationship to the world and to society, a way of thinking, the spirit of public life. … The technology of democracy is unthinkable without a democratic culture.”  (To the Castle and Back. 2007. Alfred A. Knopf, p.68).

The first elections in a newly democratic country get all the attention. In reality the most important elections in the transition to democracy are not the first but the second. The second elections are the true test of whether power can be transferred peacefully and lawfully, of whether the concepts of “loyal opposition” and “government-in-waiting” have gained acceptance, in short, of whether a democratic culture has taken root.

Of course no election can ever confer a mandate for tyranny. Mohamed Morsi may have been heading in that direction. He may well have deserved to be thrown out of office. In a democracy that’s the people’s job, not the army’s.

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