Over a year after Egyptian Prime Minister Hosni Mubarak — who is now reportedly on the verge of death — resigned his post, citizens of the Middle East’s most populated nation have democracy on their mind. But they’re kidding themselves if they think they’ll have it.
In a wise article at the Ottomans and Zionists blog, Michael Koplow argues Egypt’s “democracy” is an illusion. That’s because Egypt’s military, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, ”issued a constitutional declaration expanding the military’s powers over the president and the constitution writing process.”
A couple things about this. First, it’s a declaration instead of referendum or proposed amendment. As much as we may get upset about executive orders here in the United States (and let’s not kid ourselves, they can be problematic) this is a whole new level of authoritarian state.
Koplow identifies two key factors that might signal real democratization:
One (from O’Donnell and Schmitter) is the interval between the original political regime and the one that replaces it. Did that ever happen in Egypt? To my mind, the answer is a resounding no. Mubarak is gone, but his regime never went anywhere. His defense minister and army chief of staff have been running Egypt under the guise of the SCAF, and his last prime minister just participated in a two man runoff to become the next president.
A transition has occurred once a state has arrived at the point where no actor can intervene to reverse the outcome of the formal political process, and the transfer of power occurs from a set of people to a set of rules. I don’t think anyone would seriously argue that this ever occurred in Egypt post-January 2011.
Americans, as we recently saw in Wisconsin, fetishize elections. But we shouldn’t pretend that simply having an election, in and of itself, means much. Kopolow is right when he suggests Egypt has a sham democracy. That, of course, is sad.
Then again, given our solid long-term relations with the Egyptian military — and given the possible alternatives — maybe it could be worse?