Commentary Magazine


Liberal Democracy in Egypt

The decree issued last week by Egypt’s ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces banning religious slogans in the parliamentary election campaign is a potentially positive development for the country’s post-Mubarak political reconstruction. In the run-up to the vote, beginning November 28, “electoral campaigns based on the use of religious slogans or on racial or gender segregation are banned.” Violators could face a fine and three months imprisonment.

Observers may regret such policies erode the very freedoms of speech which democracy is supposed to promote, but this is a misconstruction. Unrestrained democracy can lead anywhere; the secret of political stability, the route to international legitimacy, and the recipe to a secure freedom of speech in the longer run, is liberal democracy.

That is to say, the key lies less in the representation than in the restraint part, and not merely democratic election, but rather liberty, is the foundation for a promising future. This is an argument for the mitigation of democracy in its nascence, and it is the only way to moderate whatever political force manages to climb the greasy obelisk.

Egypt’s priority now is the pursuit of liberty, not simply of the vote, and other elements of the military council’s decree–harsh penalties for bribery and false media coverage during the campaign, and a pledge to support new youth parties–give some reason for cautious optimism regarding its intentions.

Therefore, reasonable measures to reduce racial or gender discrimination should be lauded. So should efforts to erode the appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, an advocate of the “one man, one vote, one time” approach (precisely antithetical to liberal democracy) and of the soon-to-be-discarded slogan, “Islam is the solution.” In the context of an upsurge of religious violence in the country recently, as far as Egypt’s leadership is concerned, political Islam is decidedly not the solution. The vote is about whether or not the electorate agrees.