Wade's World

Just leave it where Jesus flang it.

Friday, September 09, 2005

"More than a referendum, but less than an election."

Overshadowed by Hurricane Katrina and its political aftermath, the first contested presidential elections were held in Egypt and Hosni Mubarak was swept into victory with better than 88% of the vote. While an impressive number to be sure, only about 23% of the electorate actually voted, and charges of myriad electoral violations marred the victory:

Widespread violations were reported by voters, opposition groups and independent monitors during the balloting _ particularly strong pressure from officials and other on voters to back Mubarak. But the election saw none of the violence or overt vote rigging that has plagued past parliamentary elections.

Marie, the top judge on Egypt's highest court, said the vote was clean and allegations of violations stemmed from "over-enthusiasm in a nascent experiment that will be the cornerstone in the construction of democracy."

On Thursday, Nour demanded the election be repeated because of the allegations, but the commission _ which reform-minded judges have accused of being dominated by the government _ rejected the request.

Third-place finisher Gomaa said Friday his party would put together a list of the election violations it witnessed and present them to the commission. But, speaking to Al-Jazeera television, he acknowledged that the violations were not enough to affect Mubarak's victory.

Even so, as some (and one in particular) like to say, "democracy is a process, not an event." Judging by Western standards, the Egyptian election does not look like much. But when considered in context -- i.e., a country that has known only autocratic rule for the last 50 years -- this event is inspiring. When viewed in connection with the (i) Iraq elections and subsequent Constitutional process, (ii) the Palestinian elections, (iii) the Lebanon elections, (iv) the Saudi elections, (v) the Afghanistan elections, and (iv) the Pakistani elections, none of which have gove perfectly (albeit some better than others) the "process" of democracy begins to appear.

There's no question that Mubarak's re-election is not much more than a baby step in that process, but it's diminutive stature in the great annals of democracy should not dimish its importance. A two-inch putt counts as much as a 350 yard drive. The very fact that the autocratic grip on what has hitherto sufficed as an "electoral process" has been ever so slightly loosened should be recognized as a an awakening of hope for the Egyptian people, and for the populous of the Arab world in general. Taken as a sign that democracy is beginning to emerge in a land that has never truly known governance by the governed, it starts a fire in the bellies of Arabs elsewhere to see such reforms, however slight, in their own countries. It will take time, but the cries of "kifaya" will grow louder and louder until the autocrats and dictators have no choice but to change.

What results will most certainly have little resemblence to American, Canadian, European or even (hopefully) South American democracy. That's actually not very important. What matters most is that the political structure reflects, as accurately as possible, the will of the governed, as the those who are currently governed see fit to express it. If that means some countries are theocracy well, that probably does not bode well for us. However, an energetic democacy, viz one that continually regenerates through frequent elections, would not be as foreboding since the governing body would constantly be held to account in meeting the desires of the electorate. The fact that this nascent process is beginning with elections, therefore, is encouraging in my mind.

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