A little more than a year ago, the West watched in excitement as Egyptians forced long-time dictator Hosni Mubarak out of power. Now the country has just selected its first freely elected president. Mohamed Morsi is the choice of the majority of Egyptian voters, so he’s what the democratic process produces. He also ran using a slogan of, “Islam is the solution.”
He’s a candidate who promised to stand for “democracy” — whatever that means to him, or us, for that matter — and for women’s rights, but he also supported banning women from the presidency. He’s been the head of the political faction of the Muslim Brotherhood, a group working to place Egypt under Islamic law. If this is what the majority of people in Egypt want, is that just fine with us?
I’ve said before that freedom and democracy aren’t the same things, even if a tendency toward more freedom has generally correlated with some form of democracy. There’s no reason that a democratically elected government can’t pass repressive laws and even change the political system to keep themselves in power — all legally, of course.
Since the democratic process in Egypt seems to be leading in the Islamist direction, isn’t it time for the U.S. government to question its policy of trying to force countries down the road toward democracy?
George W. Bush was supposedly influenced by a book by Natan Sharansky called “The Case for Democracy.” Sharansky had been a political prisoner in the former Soviet Union, and he argued that U.S. foreign policy should be driven by the goal of expanding democracy. That sort of thinking influenced Bush’s decisions in both Iraq and Afghanistan. If you listen to the things Bush said about both of those countries, it was obvious that he believed they could be functioning democracies. He also seemed to assume that western-style freedom would come along with those democratic states.
Does anyone believe that most of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan want the same kind of legal and social system that we have here? I see no evidence of it. I see only evidence that the different religious factions would like to kill each other in Iraq and the Taliban is the group best positioned to take back power in Afghanistan as soon as the United States leaves.
They’re not like us. Their beliefs are different. Their culture is different. Their history is different. I’d like them to choose some form of a free society, but we can’t make them be what we want them to be. For that matter, we can even get it right for ourselves.
It’s way past time for the U.S. government to quit trying to dictate what people in other countries do. Even if you believe in the legitimacy of coercive states, there’s no legitimate American interest in telling other countries what to do. As long as they simply engage in voluntary trade with Americans and otherwise leave us alone, that ought to be good enough for the U.S. government.
If you want to go lead a movement to overthrow all the world’s dictatorships and replace them with the kind of governments you want them to have, that’s your right — but do it with your own money and don’t do it in my name. And I suggest you don’t count on democracy to bring the results you want in many places.