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Mideast Egypt

In their first attempt toward establishing a democracy, Egyptians apparently misunderstood the real meaning of the concept, and how its mechanism functions. Democracy is not only about placing ballots in transparent boxes to set up a government. Democracy is a philosophy of ruling and governing a country through a given mechanism that entails many aspects. Limiting the concept of democracy to the idea of an authoritative majority being in power is a serious error in building the “New Egypt.”

Democracy, in essence, is about the rule of law. Empowering institutions that may overrule an elected president, having a genuine understanding and correct practice of human rights, enabling real freedom of expression that is supported by law, developing a political structure that empowers citizens to easily engage in politics – these are some of the real attributes of democracy. These attributes conclude in elections, and permit a single party, or a coalition of parties, to rule any given country.

Acknowledging the above-mentioned process does not mean diminishing the rights of minorities who did not fare well in elections, but still attempted to politically engage in the progress of their respective countries, nor does it mean forcing these minorities to follow and abide by the decisions of the majority.

In most advanced and well-established democratic nations, there is sizable room for minorities to apply their ideas and practice their rights. Certainly, this does not mean that political minorities may establish their own governments – but the government in power must always recognize the right of the minority to pursue beliefs or ideas that differ from its own. This could happen through enabling citizens to practice a religion that is different than that of the majority, or advocating for an idea and promoting policies completely opposite to those espoused by the majority.

“Egypt is in need of a leader who is able to guide the nation and unite all citizens in support of the country’s welfare, not one concerned with supporting a single party or group” – Mohammed Nosseir

The fact that minorities are, by definition, small groups of people in quantitative terms, doesn’t mean that these groups support the wrong ideas or policies. A political minority is simply a group that has not managed to persuade a sufficient number of citizens to vote for it.

Engaging minorities in the political decision-making process helps the society of a given nation to be in harmony, thus contributing to enhancing that nation’s progress and performance.

Supporters of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi chant slogans as one holds up the Quran during a rally in Cairo Friday, December 14, 2012. (AP)

Recognition by the ruling government of politicians who represent minorities and their ideas does not destabilize the government or threaten its principles. On the contrary, a bias toward good ideas and people with merit is a sign of political maturity; turning a blind eye toward all notions put forth by minorities is not an advisable approach.

Carrying on an ongoing debate over national issues between governments and their opposition enables countries to progress and allows their people to flourish – as long as this debate is managed in a constructive manner that enables rivals to listen to one another and convey their views to the public, who will eventually pick their favorite party’s policies. An obsession with the phenomenon of the political majority is actually destructive of the majority, who will not be able to progress if they only listen to their own egos.

Elections bring a government to power. However, this does not mean that the ruling government always has better policies. Therefore, advanced countries often work toward enabling political minorities to sustain their ideas and policies, which could eventually serve as alternative policies should the ruling party’s policies fail.

Furthermore, the ruling majority should understand that citizens enabled them to temporarily rule the country for a period of a few years, and for the purpose of applying their electoral program. In other words, it is not a Catholic marriage or a lifetime commitment.

Egyptian Christians are seen at a prayer rally ahead of a controversial constitutional referendum, Cairo, December 13, 2012. (AP)

It is widely known that sometimes rulers come up with ideas and programs that are simply not feasible, but they somehow manage to mislead citizens into believing these ideas. Almost one third of the Egyptian labor force works for the government, and potential presidential candidates can therefore easily secure the votes of this labor force by providing them with false promises. Therefore, a true democracy should have a mechanism to enable citizens to outvote their ruler who does not fulfill his or her commitments by applying a vote of no-confidence.

Unfortunately, elections in Egypt are not about competing on the basis of ideas, programs or policies. They are simply about a politician’s ability to mobilize ordinary people, persuading them to vote for a given person or party by convincing them that the person or party can make Egyptians’ lives better. This is not an anti-democratic approach, but it is definitely an indication of immature democracy. It is also a well-known fact that, due to the high illiteracy rate in Egypt (among other factors), the majority of Egyptians don’t yet have the capacity to assess a political party’s programs and vote accordingly. Thus, they tend to vote based on personality attributes – such as acceptance and trust – and not according to specific programs and policies. Therefore, whoever has the talent to gain people’s confidence in his personality and is able to run a good campaign will win, even if he has no substance whatsoever. This was a real issue in the latest Egyptian presidential and parliamentary elections.

Minorities, by definition, are few in number, but this does not mean that they are weak or powerless. On the contrary, if a minority party or group is well-organized, its power could exceed that of the party in power, which bears the burden and responsibility of running a government.

A minority group could easily play a role that is destructive to the government, but this is not advisable, because the issue at stake would be the state’s progress. However, it is doable and it could lead to the toppling of a government. Therefore, Egypt is in need of a leader who is able to guide the nation and unite all citizens in support of the country’s welfare, not one concerned with supporting a single party or group.

This post was originally published by the Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East.

The viewpoint expressed here is the author’s own and is not endorsed by Middle East Voices or Voice of America. If you disagree with the author of this post, you may use our democratic commenting system below. Also, you may e-mail us through our Submit Page with a short proposal for a Counterpoint. Our policy is to run Counterpoint essays as often as possible. Should our editors accept your proposal, they will be in touch with you on how you can submit your full essay. Once published, a link to your alternative perspective will also be added to the original post.

Mohammed Nosseir

Mohammed Nosseir is a member of the political bureau of the Free Egyptians Party.


  1. Ali Baba

    January 3, 2013

    make no mistake. Muslim brotherhood does not believe in democracy. Muslim brotherhood will destroy Egypt. tell to the Muslim brotherhood guideness who want to set Egypt in a flame.

  2. JKF2

    January 2, 2013

    The big issue, is that a modern democracy usually separates common/civil and criminal law from religeous law. Many, if not most, Muslim majority countries do not seem capable of separating common law from Sharia law. The moment you introduce religeous law, as state dictum, the rights of minorities, that do not practice the state religion, are out the window, Unless the state also accepts/in-corporates minority religeous law alongside Sharia law, also as part and parcel of the legal process. If it is not fully inscribed in the state’constitution minorities are imperiled. But such a situation, where multiple different religeous laws are incorporated, does not work well when a civil case involves two different religeous persons in front of the court, so essentially such a system is not prevelant or in use. Introducing religeous law, instead of common law devoid of religion, absolutely does not lends itself to a fair hearing for those that do not practice or are not members of that religion. The legal civil framework based on religeous law, and it does not matter what religion is used, only serves to ethnically cleanse those that do not belong to the ethnic grouping promoted by the state. If you look at the results of religeous laws applied as state laws, Christianity, in the middle ages, the minorities were forced to convert or ended-up leaving the jurisdiction, or were actually expelled. We observe exactly the same in countries in which Sharia law, has replaced common law; Christian/Jewish/Hindi/Budist/ etc minority populations have rapidly declined, if not completely disapeared. Religeous common law did not work in Europe, did not work in the Americas, does not work anywhere for minority rights. So, how is Egypt going, to introduce safeguards, to get different end results? I do not believe it can.

  3. Mohamed Warsama Boss

    December 30, 2012

    I believe what we need in Africa and the middle East is a fully-fledged democracy not authoritative one party system. All religions majority or minority must thrive in a free environment. All institutions must work justly for the benefit of the whole people. If these fundamental foundations are not there, every aspect of the system will collapse and turmoil will ensue slowly but surely in the end.

  4. Adeniyi Mahmud

    December 30, 2012

    inconsistently double standard of the champions of democracy all over the world. In your country where majority of your people for voted for Gay marriage you did n 't see that absurd. you now say "Democracy is not only about placing ballots in transparent boxes to set up a government. Democracy is a philosophy of ruling and governing a country through a given mechanism that entails many aspects" YOUR LIKE NAPOLEUM IN THE LITERATURE BOOK "ANIMAL FARM".


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