Egypt Q and A: What does this mean for Arab Democratisation?
As the situation unfolds in Egypt, attention turns to the wider implications of military intervention. Jacob Powell speaks to Dr. Larbi Sadiki, a leading scholar in the field of Arab democratisation and a regular contributor to these pages. He has authored two critically acclaimed books on the issue: Arab Democratization: Elections without Democracy (Oxford University Press, 2009) and The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses (Columbia University Press, 2004).
Jacob Powell: Do you think Egypt is ready for democracy?
Larbi Sadiki: I think the question is not really answerable. The question should be: “where is the infrastructure in place to facilitate democracy?” Democracy is an open-ended game that gets developed over a long time. What we have seen since 2011, - the Egyptian people have the building blocks of democracy enacted through mostly peaceful people’s power displays. We should not engage the question through ‘exceptionalism’, relegating Egypt or Arabs to the realm of ‘non-democracy’, whatever that might be. For example, Chile had its setbacks and Pinochet toppled a democratically elected government in the mid 1970s – mostly with Western backing especially from the US. Several Latin American countries had similar experiences of democratic breakdown with the generals intervening to scupper democratic processes and purge democratic opposition. We cannot forget the Chavista and anti-Chavista In Venezuela. During 2002, Chavez was temporarily ousted by the army, and there were people protesting for and against him.
Closer to home, we cannot forget Algeria 1991-92 and the Palestinian elections of 2006. The common thread is that Islamists choosing the ballot box keep being toppled. The route to democracy is not linear. It is long, complex and fraught with obstacles, embracing both highs and lows. The journey to democracy, past and present, affirms this. I don’t really think Egyptians have something in their character that lends itself to inhospitality to democracy and democratisation. Definitely, what has happened in Egypt has stunted a fledgling democratisation process. I’m pretty sure that the Egyptian people have the means to reclaim their power and restore the democratisation process. However, we cannot massage words about what has happened: a coup is a coup is a coup – be it one which, for now, has been triggered by massive public backing. It is naïve to think Arab uprisings have been solely popular affairs – armies are very much part of the machinations driving ousters of unwanted regimes and presidents, especially in Egypt.