Democracy's New Enemies

A few weeks ago, after a meeting with an old friend from Egypt in London's Southbank, I was sad and depressed: My friend, who had always agitated against Mubarak's rule while she was in London and moved back to Egypt after the Cairo spring, felt that the revolution had not moved the country forward. Mubarak is gone, but the long shadow of the army was everywhere: As she put it, the country now has a neo-liberal theocracy, a strange coalition of interests which is pushing the country to backwards.

Apparently the coalition was more fragile than previously thought. Within two weeks of that meeting, protestors are back in Tahrir Square and the Army is back. The reversal of Arab Spring has now started. Indeed, the army has taken powers in the name of people, and have no doubt blessings of the US State Department. The ex-President and his team is under house arrest. The first counter-revolution in the modern time seems complete.

Every Egyptian will have a view about what happened, and I am quite certain that everyone will not have the same view. But, the rest of the world, people like me, is also entitled to their views about these events, because this is not just about Egypt. Living through an age of mass protests, when the gathering crowds in public squares are directly broadcast into our living rooms, we are starting to see a pattern. After a decade of freedom rhetoric coming out of the Western capitals, one is starting to wonder whether the world has changed, or changing at all. If Egypt didn't define the spirit of the age, it surely has now put it in acute emphasis: Democracy has now acquired a new enemy.

One way to see what's happening at Egypt is to see this as a clash of two powerful anti-democratic forces, the Army Dictatorship and the Theocracy. All these elements are indeed there and will indeed be played up: But the Egyptians did vote in a free and fair election only about 12 months ago and they had a clear winner. So, while the events since then saw a theocratic encroachment and finally an Army pushback, though this is not about secularism but financial interests (of the Army), what we see now is a roll-back of democracy, facilitated by neither of these two forces. The new enemy of democracy has become the twitter-fuelled, US State Department blessed street protests.

A coup shrouded by street protests were an age-old technique for the Middle East, and this is what was employed by the infamous coup in Iran, masterminded by MI6 and CIA, which threw democratically elected Mohammed Mosaddegh in 1953 out of power and brought back the Shah. My point, however, is not to talk about any conspiracy theories, at least not yet, but how the Middle Classes in different countries have adapted the idea of street protests, egged on by willing media, and have effectively undermined democracy. This is not just about Egypt, but also Thailand and increasingly other countries, where these protests have become from the heralding force for democracy to its greatest enemy.

There may have been obvious disappointments with Morsi's elevation as President, but democracy isn't about just getting one's way all the time: It is about being able to work with people who we disagree with. However much affinity I may feel with the educated, secular Egyptians who have taken to the streets, it is difficult to sympathize with Middle Classes who wants to impose a minority rule. I am sure there are people rejoicing the crowd power and that media and technology can change regimes ever so frequently, but I feel a sense of foreboding that this is not progress. In fact, this is where one starts seeing the broader point about technology (and media) in politics: These tools may be value neutral, and may be easily used to impose the norms as wished by its owners. So, when the Egyptians either cheer the Army or mourn their stolen revolution, I am trying to take stock of the new enemy of democracy, the very forces that have claimed to shape it.    


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