Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Teach Them How to Elect Good Men

The war of attrition on the streets of Cairo continues:

Egyptians counted the economic cost of more than two weeks of turmoil on Wednesday as protesters on Cairo's Tahrir Square looked ahead to their next big push to oust President Hosni Mubarak later in the week.

A day after Egyptians staged one of their biggest protests in the capital, Tahrir Square remained crowded although no demonstration had been scheduled.

Karam Mohamed, from Beheira province in the Nile Delta, said the protests were growing. "We are putting pressure on them little by little and in the end they will fall."

The government figures that their pressure on the protesters will work and that in the end the protesters will fail to unseat the regime right now.

One of the problems is that the protesters want opportunity and freedom from Mubarak and the old order; but that getting democracy is only one path in the negative common objective of removing Mubarak and the old order. Yes, some protesters--the members of the Twittering Class that we identify with--want something called "democracy." Others don't want that. Those anti-democratic protesters simply want Mubarak out and we have no obligation to include these people in the new order that is being created before our eyes in the mistaken notion that freedom requires all opposition forces to replace the existing government. Indeed, we have an obligation to keep those proto-thugs out of the new government:

“Liberty and justice for all’’ does not require empowering even those who seek to do away with liberty and justice. In a famous dissent to the 1949 Supreme Court case of Terminiello v. Chicago, Justice Robert Jackson warned against interpreting the First Amendment so categorically as to fortify “right and left totalitarian groups, who want nothing so much as to paralyze and discredit . . . democratic authority.’’ A commitment to liberal democracy is not an obligation to open the democratic process to parties that reject liberal democracy itself. Jackson cautioned the court to “temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom,’’ lest it “convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.’’

And even for those who want democracy, not having lived under it they may have no idea what that aspiration really means as a practical matter. Or anti-democratic forces that take part in elections to get their foot in the door could simply take power by undemocratic means--as Hitler did in Germany and as Hamas did in Gaza (UPDATE: And as Hezbollah is in the process of doing now in Lebanon, I should add.).

Which means our role is to direct the clear but unfocused yearning for freedom on the streets of Egypt and allow them the opportunity to elect democratic men by strengthening the institutions that will allow for future elections rather than setting up a winner-take-all plebiscite on who gets to be the next dictator and ruling class. As I wrote when Hamas won the plurality in the Palestinian Authority elections:

So let's cut off aid to the PA but funnel it to NGOs that build democratic institutions and civic organizations. Our goal should be to promote democracy. So rather than trying to nullify this election result, we should make sure that there will more elections, and that those results will be honored by even a Hamas government that loses.

We can't make them elect good men. But we can insist they keep holding elections until they decide to elect good men.

Don't look for a Jefferson on a White Horse to save Egypt for democracy. Look for a constitution that allows a Jefferson to develop within Egypt.