Sunday, June 24, 2012

Democracy v. Oligarchy, Round 2

Tahrir Square, June 8 2012

It's real cause for celebration that the counter-revolution, with all its might, still failed to capture the presidency via the ballot box. For the first time, an unremarkable civilian will become president of Egypt. True, he's the choice of a slim majority in an imperfect election, but compared to his predecessors, Mohammad Morsi is the most democratically-chosen national leader in Egyptian history. 

Perhaps now we can look forward to the disappearance of the ridiculous nuisance Ahmed Shafiq, though we must think hard about the conditions that compelled 12 million people to vote for him. I also can't help marveling at the discipline and commitment of all those voters who chose Morsi, not because they like him or his organization, but because they know that the grand struggle is to rid Egypt of foreign-backed oligarchic military rule.

Mohammad Morsi is a very odd figure to spearhead that struggle, not just because he lacks any visible leadership qualities, but because he and his fellow party apparatchiks are themselves oligarchs, although of the civilian kind. Morsi is a stand-in for Khairat al-Shater, the Muslim Brothers' real leader. Shater is the consummate party oligarch, with only a reluctant appreciation for the practice and doctrine of popular sovereignty. That's why the Americans love him so much; he's an "impressive" man they can do business with.

To add an even greater hurdle, from day one the SCAF knew that it faced the juggernaut of popular sovereignty, so it quickly did an end-run around it. By dissolving parliament and grabbing its power, stipulating that the president swear the oath before unelected judges and keep his hands off the military's fiefdom, and establishing a veto over the constitution-writing process, SCAF effectively stopped the exercise of popular sovereignty before it could begin.

A hamstrung president who hails from a party of oligarchs is hardly the leader many of us wanted to launch the offensive against military rule. That's why this election has the feel of a Pyrrhic victory. But then when I think about the ghastly alternative, of Shafiq winning and SCAF cementing its rule with democratic legitimacy, I'm filled with joy at the election's sub-optimal but not disastrous outcome. 

Limping but proud, the revolution continues its valiant fight against the evils of oligarchy.