Democracy in Egypt can wait

For starters, even if liberal democracies do tend to provide good governance at home and abroad, rapid transitions to democracy historically have had the opposite effect: disorder at home and instability beyond the countries’ borders. In nations that lack experience with constitutional constraints and democratic accountability, electoral victors usually embrace winner-take-all strategies; they shut out the opposition, govern as they see fit and unsettle their neighbors. In one case after another — Bosnia, Russia, Ukraine, Iraq, Egypt — newly democratic governments have demonized opponents and ruled with an iron fist.

Incremental change produces more durable results; liberal democracies must be constructed from the ground up. Constitutional constraints, judicial reform, political parties, economic privatization — these building blocks of democratic societies need time to take root. The West’s own experience provides ample evidence. England became a constitutional monarchy after the Glorious Revolution in 1688, but did not mature into a liberal democracy until the 20th century.

Moreover, transitions to democracy in the Middle East will be more perilous than those elsewhere because of factors unique to the region: the power of political Islam and the entrenched nature of sectarian and tribal loyalties.