Egypt’s experiment with democracy

Peter Hessler writes: In Egypt, the current conflict reflects the vastly different responses that groups can have to a fledgling democracy after decades of dictatorship. For the Brotherhood, this means stubbornly following what it believes to be the correct and legitimate political path, even if it alienates others and leads to disaster; for the military, it’s a matter of implementing the worst instincts of the majority. In each case, one can recognize a seed of democratic instinct, but it’s grown in twisted ways, because the political and social environment was damaged by the regimes of the past half-century.

As for average Egyptians, the last two years have taught lessons that won’t be easily forgotten. After the coup last month, I travelled to Upper Egypt, because I was curious to see how people outside the capital interpreted these events. Upper Egypt is home to about forty per cent of the country’s population, and it played an important role in the post-revolution elections, with the Brotherhood winning vast majorities in the region. But most people I talked to last month had discarded their affection for the Brotherhood. “I was very sympathetic to them,” one man told me, in the town of El-Balyana. “I was sympathetic with Morsi until they removed him. And now I’m going to be sympathetic with whoever comes next!”

“We’re just like football fans here,” an engineer named Mohamed Latif told me, in a village called El-Araba. “When somebody scores, we cheer. But it doesn’t matter. Do you really think that anything we do here matters? Why do you want to talk to us? I voted for Morsi, and I prayed for him, but he failed. I’m against what happened. We should have kept him as an honorary figure. We could have given the power to the Army and others, but left Morsi as the President in name.”

I asked him if he believed that the coup had been a mistake. “No,” he said. “He failed. I won’t vote for them again. I don’t want democracy.” He continued, “Does China have democracy? How is its economy doing? I don’t care about democracy and freedom.”

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