By COKIE ROBERTS AND STEVEN V. ROBERTS
Can democracy survive when voters choose a government that destroys democratic values and institutions? That’s the critical question posed by the turmoil in Egypt, where the military has ousted President Mohammed Morsi and arrested many of his supporters.
There’s no doubt that Morsi and his Freedom and Justice Party took power legitimately, and they have actually won three elections — for president, for parliament and for a new constitution. “This was the party that represented the wishes of the Egyptian people,” said Fareed Zakaria on CNN.
There’s also no doubt that Morsi badly abused that power, rejecting judicial review, silencing critics, banning opposition parties and encouraging attacks on Egypt’s Christian minority.
Reps. Ed Royce and Eliot Engel — the top Republican and Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee — made this point in a rare joint statement: “Real democracy requires inclusiveness, compromise, respect for human and minority rights and a commitment to the rule of law. Morsi and his inner circle did not embrace any of these principles and instead chose to consolidate power and rule by fiat.”
It was encouraging to hear the military government outline a schedule for revising the constitution and holding new elections within six months. But it’s clear that elections are no panacea. Democracy is not some magic word that will suddenly reconcile hostile tribes, sects and ideologies into a peaceable kingdom of mutual regard and respect.
In fact, democracy is a highly complex and often misunderstood system. As the congressmen noted, the essence of the concept is not ensuring majority rule, but protecting minority rights. It cannot function well without institutions that check and balance elected power. Independent judges who can overrule even popular legislation. Unfettered journalists who can criticize the government without fear of retribution.