February 4: On governing Egypt

Elections are not the first step toward democracy, but the final step.

On governing Egypt
Sir, – Regarding “White House encouraged Mubarak to say current term will be his last” (February 1), we must remember one fundamental truth: Elections are not the first step toward democracy, but the final step.
It is extremely dangerous to force elections on the basis of an artificial timetable. Elections may accomplish nothing unless a society already has in place stable institutions, including an independent judiciary, free press, respect for the rule of law and a knowledgeable electorate.
Above all, there must be general agreement by all participants that losers will accept the will of the people rather than seek to overturn the results through violence.
During my time in the Coalition Provisional Authority’s “Governance Office,” we provided democracy training throughout Iraq. We worked for many months to set the stage for a successful election – meeting with citizen groups to explain the fundamentals of a democratic society, and helping build community and civil rights organizations.
This was necessary because, contrary to the assertion that Iraq had a democratic tradition, the majority of Iraqis had yet to be born the last time a truly free election took place.
Egypt finds itself in the same situation today.
Despite our efforts, nearly seven years after that election, it remains to be seen whether Iraq will develop into a free society or sink back into repression and internecine violence. Closer to home, Hamas in Gaza and Hizbullah in Lebanon show what can happen when parties not committed to the peaceful rule of law participate in elections without proper safeguards rather than being marginalized and excluded from the process.
Will we witness similar results if the Muslim Brotherhood participates in the upcoming Egyptian election? We must hope that a transition of power will be relatively peaceful. The true test of a democracy is not whether a single election takes place, but whether it is followed by an equally free election.
Zichron Ya’acov
The writer is a senior fellow at Bar-Ilan University’s Center for International Communication and a former US diplomat
Sir, – A valuable aid to reflection upon the current Egyptian riots was long ago provided by John Stuart Mill in the opening chapter of On Liberty (1859): “Despotism is a legitimate mode of government in dealing with barbarians, provided the end be their improvement, and the means justified by actually effecting that end. Liberty, as a principle, has no application to any state of things anterior to the time when mankind have become capable of being improved by free and equal discussion.
Until then, there is nothing for them but simple obedience to an Akbar or a Charlemagne, if they are so fortunate as to find one.”
Seattle, Washington
Sir, – Lord Palmerston, a mid-19th century English prime minister, said more or less the following: Nations have neither permanent friends nor permanent enemies, only permanent interests.
President Obama’s pressure on Hosni Mubarak to step down and Jimmy Carter’s abandonment of the Shah of Iran are modern examples. The US-Israel relationship is not so sacrosanct, meaning it too could fall victim to Palmerston’s law.
He can stay here Sir, – Mike Huckabee, historically a true friend of Israel, at great political risk pointed out when interviewed by The Jerusalem Post (“Huckabee to ‘Post’: After Egypt, US must reassure allies it won’t abandon them,” February 2) that “land for peace” has proven only to invite more rockets.
He sees the continuation of this doctrine as the “ultimate definition of insanity.”
If the US doesn’t want Huckabee for president, maybe Israel can have him for prime minister.
Zichron Ya’acov