Even more important is a spirit of tolerance and modesty: a common understanding that no party or faction has a monopoly on wisdom. Democracy requires a widely shared trust that elected officials will play by the rules, governing fairly when they win power and yielding peacefully when they lose.
On paper, Egypt had democratic institutions — courts, parliaments, media outlets. They even had fair elections. What was profoundly lacking was that spirit of tolerance, a culture of compromise.
Morsi and his party, the political arm of the long-banned Muslim Brotherhood, governed as if they alone represented The Truth. Opponents were treated not just as fools but as infidels. Once you believe that, any sort of repression of your critics is justified. Even required.
We’ve seen this before when Communists won (or stole) elections in countries like Poland and Hungary after World War II and then demolished democracy. The Communists thought they were chosen by history, and the Islamists by God, but the lesson is the same: Hold power by any means necessary.
Steve and Cokie Roberts can be contacted by email at email@example.com.