The events in Egypt should not come as a surprise to anyone who has even cursory
knowledge of the Arab world from historical, cultural, religious and political
The Arab Spring has not come one day too soon to lift the
Arab populace from decades of servitude, subjugation and suppression by
The idea, however, that once a dictator is overthrown the rush
to a democracy will provide the people with all that they have been yearning for
is a fallacy that inescapably ushers in disastrous consequences, as witnessed in
The West, led by the United States, is partly to blame for what is
happening in Egypt, the continuing carnage in Iraq, the unending violence in
Libya and what might still be in store for Syria’s calamitous civil
The West seems to have forgotten how many centuries it took, how
many wars (including America’s Civil War) have occurred, how many millions of
people have perished and how much destruction has been inflicted to reach the
democratic political order they currently enjoy.
Democracy was not then
and it is not now to be taken for granted, as if it were a natural development
of political processes. Democracy is not a pill that, once swallowed, changes
human behavior overnight and infuses the mind with a deep sense of freedom
immune from outside challenges.
Democracy is a long and tedious process
that takes decades to mature even under the best of circumstances.
the days of their inceptions, in the wake of World Wars I and II, not a single
Arab state has experienced any form of democratic governance. Kings and emirs
were arbitrarily installed by colonial powers; national boundaries were randomly
drawn irrespective of sects, races and ethnicities.
The seeds of popular
discontent were planted then and further nurtured by sectarian, tribal and
ethnic rivalries, while dictators and kings ruthlessly used every tool available
to divide and conquer in order to secure their hold on power.
and its resources became the private holdings of families, many of whom continue
to this day, passing their fortunes and power from one generation to the next.
They treat their citizens as subjects living at the mercy of their rulers, and
daring to challenge the authorities is dangerous.
For the West to think
that once a dictator is deposed by popular demand it can push for democracy
starting with general elections and then haphazard new constitutions is nothing
but a recipe for continuing upheavals and bloodshed.
While the West has
the moral responsibility to support the march to freedom and provide the
guidance to transition to a new political order, it requires more than an
instinctive leap to democratic governance.
What is needed is a political
process that paves the way for the establishment of a democratic form of
government based on a carefully thought-out constitution to safeguard the rights
of every individual and with a built-in political mechanism to ensure full
adherence to these rights.
Any fool could have predicted the result of
pushing for early elections. The Islamic parties, be they in Tunisia, Egypt or
other Arab states, have been diligently preparing to capture power. They are
patient and disciplined, with extensive social networks, organizational skills
and resources to help the poor that no secular political party could
Whereas these Islamic parties operated under the watchful eyes of
the authorities, using religion and the mosque to promulgate their mission
without challenging the government, secular parties needed the public arena to
promote their political agenda, which governments have forbidden or
In Egypt, there is hardly any secular party with
a clear political ideology of which the public is fully aware and in a position
to evaluate and compare to the political agendas of other parties, be they
Islamic or secular.
It was a given that the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt
would win the elections. However free and fair these elections might have been,
they did not represent the wishes of the majority of the people.
put, other political parties were suppressed under the previous dictatorial
regimes; they lacked the organizational and political skills and failed to
present a political agenda that would address the people’s
What is absurd is that while the US has been witnessing the
unfolding events in Egypt over the past 30 months, the Obama administration is
now making precisely the same mistake again by pushing for early elections and
writing, in a hurry, a new constitution.
Due to globalization and the
technological and information revolutions, the Arab states do not need the
decades or centuries that it took the West to develop a functioning democracy.
That said, a transition to democracy still requires time and it cannot, for
political convenience, be artificially accelerated.
The US should
encourage and use its considerable leverage on the Egyptian military and the
current civilian authority to seek an inclusive transitional government that
represents all segments of the population for at least four years.
minimum transitional period is necessary to allow for the development of
democratic institutions, institutionalization of free press and freedom of
speech while developing the culture of advice and consent.
To be sure, no
democratic form of government can be accomplished, let alone sustained, by
rushing for quick fixes under the banner of democratic reforms.
the MB has thus far refused to participate, the party will sooner than later
have to choose between continuing resistance and being forced to go underground,
or becoming a part of the new political process. The MB is not suicidal and
knows that there is no future for the movement if it remains politically
The transitional government should be composed of respected and
skilled bureaucrats, experts respected in their fields, known for their
commitment to the national interest and ready to dedicate their time and energy
for the future of their country.
Such a government would then chose legal
scholars representing all segments of the population to assume the task of
writing a new constitution that enshrines human rights, including political and
The different political parties, old and new, would
develop their platforms and present them to the public, allowing the people to
choose intelligently and freely the party of their choice.
The idea here
is that regardless of the continuing violent conflicts and diametrically
opposing views, the message from the West must remain the same: a representative
and inclusive transitional government should govern for at least four years to
be followed by general elections based on the new constitution.
will remain the custodian for national security and relinquish its internal
security functions once a new government is elected.
No one can suggest
that this is an easy path, free of hurdles. But the US must have a consistent
message and avoid being seen as hypocritical in dealing with the inevitable
continuing upheavals engulfing various Arab states.
The US could have
used its leverage on the Egyptian military following the fall of Hosni Mubarak
to form an inclusive transitional government (including the Brotherhood) for at
least four years. In so doing the US might have been able to dramatically change
the political landscape and avoid the unfolding violent conflict and
Sadly, the West (led by the US) is about to commit the same
mistake again, once more depriving Arab youth of the opportunity to grow and
flourish under sustainable democratic governance.
The writer is a
professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for
Global Affairs at New York University.