Why did democracy fail in Egypt but succeed in Tunisia?
posted at 11:31 am on July 6, 2013 by Ed Morrissey
The Mediterranean rim of North Africa has three laboratories for the Arab Spring — Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt, each with a differing formula of political culture and Western intervention. The one with the most direct Western intervention and least sophisticated political culture, Libya, has descended into a failed state whose central government can’t even control the street in front of its own Defense Ministry, where Islamist terror networks fight for turf in a deadly gang war. Egypt, where Western pressure pushed out a long-term dictator in favor of quick elections, produced an incompetent Islamist autocracy via an election that the military finally ejected from power this week. With violence escalating now, this could be the start of a civil war between the Muslim Brotherhood and everyone else.
In Tunisia, where Western intervention was the lightest and the political culture more advanced and diverse, seems to have succeeded in democratization — at least so far — even with an Islamist party leading the government. Bloomberg’s Noah Feldman diagnoses the ills that plagued Egypt and the way in which leadership in Tunisia, where the Arab Spring began, avoided them:
The contrasting personalities and styles of their leaders, however, have pushed Ennahda and the Brotherhood to behave differently when negotiating religion with secularists in their respective countries.Rachid Ghannouchi, the spiritual leader of the Tunisian Islamists, has emerged as the closest thing to an Islamic Nelson Mandela. During his decades in exile, Ghannouchi wrote extensively about the compatibility of Islam and democracy, and developed a relatively liberal vision of how Islam and the state should interact.
Skeptics then claimed that Ghannouchi’s views were a cover for a more radical agenda; and some Tunisian secularists still think so. But the evidence thus far is sharply to the contrary. When Islamists called for inserting a reference to Shariah into the Tunisian constitution — usually the sine qua non for any Islamic political party — Ghannouchi took seriously the opposition from secularists. In a dramatic showdown with members of his own party’s leadership, he reportedly threatened to resign unless they dropped the measure. …
By contrast, when Mohamed Mursi was president, he proved disastrously unwilling to negotiate during Egypt’s truncated constitutional drafting process. The Brotherhood could have shown its good faith by moderating the various Islamic provisions it sought to incorporate. It wouldn’t even have had to omit Shariah, a reference to which was already included in Egypt’s pre-revolutionary constitution. Instead, the Brotherhood went further, giving constitutional authority to the clerics of al-Azhar. Compromise alone wouldn’t have forestalled the protests that led to Mursi’s overthrow. But it would have signaled a willingness to govern on behalf of the whole populace, not just those who voted for the Brotherhood.
The willingness to share governing responsibility is probably the single-most-salient factor separating Tunisia’s relative success from Egypt’s disaster. Ennahda has governed as part of a coalition with secularist parties, whose members filled the positions of president and speaker of the Assembly alongside Ennahda’s prime minister.
This so-called troika of parties has often been dysfunctional and has failed to take decisive action on the economy, which is the most important national issue and the impetus to the Arab Spring in the first place. But the symbolic power of the coalition has helped ensure that frustration about the slow pace of economic change hasn’t focused solely on Ennahda, but on the government more generally. In contrast, Mursi failed to appoint a coalition Cabinet with any meaningful breadth. Anger at shortages and a failing economy then fell squarely on him and his party.
The difference between Tunisia and Egypt in this context is that political competition in the former was well established. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was the only effectively organized political opposition during the Nasser-Sadat-Mubarak era of military dictatorships. When Ben Ali fled in 2011, the emerging electorate was sophisticated, multilateral, and prepared. Ghannouchi may be the Islamist Mandela in spirit, but the reality on the ground in Tunisia forced the Islamists to work with other parties in order to survive.
The real lesson here is that Western-style multiparty democracy does not necessarily follow from an election, and certainly not from bombing a dictator out of power with no troops on the ground to fill the vacuum that kind of action creates. Successful and free democracies have to spring from the internal culture of the nation; free and fair elections under the rule of law are the end result, not the initiating event. The actions of Morsi and his party demonstrate the folly of failing to understand that sequence.
Or, to quote from Andrew Breitbart, culture is always upstream of politics.
How, then, can Egypt salvage a democratic future after its latest military coup? Investors Business Daily has an unusual prescription — take a lesson from Augusto Pinochet, considered by many to be one of the late 20th century’s villains for deposing Salvador Allende:
Allende foreshadowed Morsi, demolishing political institutions, trampling the free press, disrespecting minority rights, ignoring the constitution, disregarding the separation of powers, trashing property rights and ruining the economy. Also, Allende was in thrall to a failed and inhuman foreign ideology — communism — just as Morsi was to Islamofascism. In both cases, the only exit was a military coup.
Had Chilean military commander Augusto Pinochet simply handed the country back to “democracy” without changing the root causes of the turmoil and tyranny, the cycle would have had a replay.
But he didn’t. He used his military government as an incubator for free-market changes, transforming his country into not just Latin America’s best economy, but also Latin America’s most durable democracy. Pinochet — who stepped down dutifully after 17 years upon losing a referendum — understood that economic freedom had to precede political freedom. He employed a brilliant group of mostly University of Chicago-educated young Chilean economists, known as the Chicago Boys, to transform the society by cleaning out thousands of weedlike laws choking Chile’s economy — on labor, mining, currency, fishing, vineyards, startups and pensions.
They made the central bank independent and instituted hard-core fiscal discipline that has left the country debt-free and pushed its credit rating toward triple A.
If you don’t like using Pinochet as a positive example, IBD has another:
Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto points out to IBD that one of America’s greatest success stories — Japan — under another military government, that of Gen. Douglas MacArthur — also focused on enacting economic freedom, particularly property rights, before restoring political freedom.
We got it backwards in Egypt, and just flat-out disastrously wrong in Libya. Quick elections are not the answer in Egypt. The nation needs time to develop competing political voices that can write a constitution that truly reflects the will of the people rather than the agenda of one party so that all succeeding elections can be free and fair, and a government that can share the successes and failures with the free people it governs. That starts with fixing the economy, and that starts with giving people ownership of their own labor and markets.