Thursday, March 31, 2011

Egyptian Democracy

Nick Kristof says things are going about as expected in Egypt:

Nearly two months after street protests inspired a democratic revolution, the transitional military-backed government has proposed — you guessed it — a law banning protests. That’s partly because everybody is protesting, even the police. The cops want more money, perhaps because their diminished authority means that they can now extract less in bribes.

With the police out of commission, the army uses thugs to intimidate its critics. And, when it really gets irritated, it arrests and tortures democracy activists. As I wrote in my previous column, it has even tried to humiliate female activists by subjecting them to forced “virginity exams.”

The Muslim Brotherhood, once banned, has been brought into the power structure. . . .

It seems increasingly likely that Egypt won’t change as much as many had expected. Moreover, the biggest losers of the revolution are likely to be violent Islamic extremist groups that lose steam when the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood joins the system.

“There is a determined effort to stop the revolution in its tracks,” notes Prof. Khaled Fahmy of the American University in Cairo. That’s disappointing for democracy activists like him, but reassuring to those who fear upheaval. . . .

All in all, Egypt today reminds me of other countries in transitions to democracy — Spain after Franco, South Korea in 1987, Romania or Ukraine in the 1990s, and, most of all, of Indonesia after the ouster of its dictator in 1998. Indonesia was dodgy for a while — I once encountered Javanese mobs beheading people — but it settled down, the extremist threat diminished, and Indonesia is now a stable (if unfinished) democracy.

So, yes, Egypt is messy. A young democracy almost always is. Let’s get used to it.

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