How to hate each other peacefully in a democracy

Despite this surface-level homogeneity, the underlying principles of consensual democracy—that power should be shared, dispersed, and restrained—can still be useful. A “pure” parliamentary system with only a ceremonial president could have helped alter Egypt’s course. But this is not what Egypt had. From independence onwards, the Egyptian president had always been a towering figure in the country’s politics, casting a shadow on everything else. As the first elected, civilian president in 2012, Morsi was, in fact, weaker than all of his predecessors, yet he still enjoyed disproportionate powers in Egypt’s centralized, top-heavy system. Not surprisingly, then, he became a lightning rod for the opposition. The fact that presidential contests are all or nothing—only one person, after all, can win –heightened the existential tenor of political competition. These dynamics allowed the military to capitalize on the anger that had coalesced around the person of President Morsi.

A parliamentary system, on the other hand, would have put power in the hands of a strong prime minister, who could have more easily been replaced, without necessitating a rejection of the democratic process Egyptians had agreed to less than a year prior. Early elections and no-confidence votes are regular features of parliamentary democracy. Presidents, on the other hand, are generally difficult to impeach, requiring voters to wait four years or longer to express their buyers’ remorse. Despite their claims to the contrary, presidents invariably represent one party—their own. A prime minister is more likely to govern in coalition with other parties, making him accountable to a larger number of stakeholders. All other things being equal, parliamentary systems also make coups against elected leaders less likely. Of course, coups can and will still happen, but here, too, parliamentarism is the better option. Ousted parties can more easily reconstitute themselves in parliamentary systems, as Turkey’s recurring cycle of military intervention followed by Islamist success suggests.