There's a Funny Thing About Democracy

It won't always yield results we like, but it's always right. Case in point: Egypt's elections.

Elections in Egypt (Getty Images)

The Arab Spring became the Arab fall, and in this Arab winter the people's voices are being heard at the ballot box.

The Egyptian Revolution that began in January captured international attention, not just because of the nation's historical significance as the great cradle of African civilization, but largely because of the fact that it serves as a gateway of American diplomacy to the Muslim and Arab societies of Africa and the Middle East.

On Nov. 30, as officials started counting the results of Egypt's first democratic parliamentary elections, many political analysts, Republican and Democrat, Christian and Muslim, began to question the realpolitik implications of a free election process in a Muslim nation-state. Namely, what will a democratically elected Islamic Egypt look like?

What principles will govern the rule of law? Who will protect the rights of women, religious minorities and special interest communities? What will the role of military forces be? And will the youth, who led the largely peaceful revolts in the hopes of a liberal democratic state, be forced to trade Hosni Mubarak's dictatorship for a tyranny of Islamist idealism?  

What the Egyptian People Chose

Based on confirmed reports released Dec. 2, the Egyptian elections had garnered a 62 percent turnout. Women and men cast their votes, and the winners seem to be the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood, represented now as the Freedom and Justice Party. Based on the preliminary count, the Islamist FJP received 40 percent of the vote, the Salafists received 25 percent and the liberal coalition, as the Egyptian Bloc, just slightly less.

These numbers are troubling to liberals because they suggest that the Islamist majority will only grow wider. The voting is being conducted regionally, and as such, the areas that have already been represented are among the most liberal districts.

But what does this all mean? The Muslim Brotherhood has traditionally combined political activism with charity, and under Mubarak's regime, it was largely active in providing much-needed food and services to the poor in rural areas across Egypt. This explains the Brotherhood's far reach, organization and appeal.

By contrast, the more liberal youth demonstrators, who have been greatly influenced by Western democratic principles, lack the political power, structure and organization to build a politically successful establishment. But that doesn't mean the Freedom and Justice Party spells doom for democratic freedoms. If anything, it is simply unpredictable. 

In the short period since results have been tallied, the various leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood have sent mixed signals about their political intentions. The Brotherhood's English-language website describes its principles as being primarily concerned with the introduction of Shariah law as "the basis controlling the affairs of state and society," and that one of its aims is to unify "Islamic countries and states, mainly among the Arab states ... liberating them from foreign imperialism."