Egypt faces tough democracy lesson

PUBLISHED : Friday, 08 June, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 June, 2012, 12:00am


Egyptians who thought the protests and spilled blood that toppled military dictator Hosni Mubarak 16 months ago were enough to usher in democracy are disappointed. The demonstrations were fuelled by the corruption that marked the leader's three decades in power, yet a judge has cleared him and his two sons of the charge. A first round of presidential elections two weeks ago eliminated all moderate contenders, leaving the prospect of the country being polarised and led by either of the two least palatable choices, one representing the former regime and the other Islamic extremism. But those taking to the streets again will do well to remember that a democratic culture needs more than agitation and an election or two.

Democracy requires strong foundations. Egypt's military misrule has meant that a crucial element, rule of law, is weak. Mubarak's trial was chaotic, with prosecutors bringing vague and poorly substantiated charges, evidence that the generals heading an interim military council are reluctant to cede power. While the former leader and his ex-interior minister were jailed for life for failing to stop police killing protesters, six lower-ranked officials more directly involved were found not guilty. The corruption charges were dismissed on a technicality.

Political parties need time to develop strategies. The two contenders for the deciding poll on June 16 and 17, Mubarak's trusted last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq and Mohammed Morsi of the Islamist movement the Muslim Brotherhood, had no such difficulties. Together, they received just under half of the vote, leaving three candidates representing the protesters' ideals to split much of the remainder. Egyptians are lamenting the lack of a unified moderate opposition, but this is a fraction of what is needed.

For democracy to function, those in power have to provide space for statutory oversight institutions, the media, civil society and the opposition. With continued pressure and time, Egyptians will have these - and the democracy they so desperately want.