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The Radish Farmers

August 30, 2013 at 11:40 am | News Desk

By: Tammy Swofford

Georgetown University’s Al-Waleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding hosted a delegation from Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party on April 4, 2012.  I merely made a mental note that a wild donkey does not bray when it has grass.

After Egypt hastily scrambled a new constitutional document I wrote about the flaws and my concerns regarding a lack of critical thought within some of the amendments. Things seemed to be off to a rocky start. But I never imagined that President Mohamed Morsi would be a “transition guy” – like the man a woman dates on the heels of a bad relationship – the man who does not represent future permanency, but a mere dalliance. Perhaps my opinion will not be a popular one. But it is one which must receive careful thought. The removal of the president and his administration from power may present as a lesser evil compared to what may await a newly energized political expression.  What we are seeing in Egypt is not democracy. It is chaos. It is a degradation of governance by populist fiat.

The West is seeking to tightly control the script. This is the final act of an incomplete revolution. It is unfinished business. I contend that the removal of President Morsi from power is both domestic, political, comedy and geopolitical tragedy.  Egypt has yet to achieve anything which remotely resembles democracy. Millions of people on the streets is sheer emotional valence. Democracy is extremely hard work.  It only looks easy amongst those who have neither experienced it nor spent centuries working for it.

Democracy is governance of the willing, based on the rule of law. Former president Mubarak held tightly to the reins for three decades. He was despised for the manner in which he retained his ascendancy to the presidency after the assassination of Anwar Sadat. Yet the first new Egyptian president seated with official capacity via an election process has lasted a total of 368 days in his position. Knock a few more days off this number if using the AH calendar.  Quite simply put, this latest tumult has brought forth yet one more stillborn child within a womb of hope. Is it just me, or is this damn depressing news?

Who are the stage hands assisting in this latest Egyptian upheaval?   Can we identify them any easier than the vast majority could have identified those within a different era? If I throw out the name Miles Copeland can you regurgitate the word Mukhabarat?  Do you know which Egyptian president he advised? Undoubtedly, both state and non-state actors are complicit in the complexities and hidden order of this latest Arab “Gotcha”…errr…. Arab Spring.

Did the Morsi administration make more than a few mistakes? Absolutely.  Destabilized political systems require policies that reach for the horizon regarding human capital and potential. Robust treaties and intricate economic dealings are required for the good of the people. There was too much stooping to engage partisan politics; too swift a response by party loyalists to inflict their own brand of conviction upon the colorful and ethnically diverse population. His administration lacked a strategic and cohesive policy of establishing national identity as the canopy under which all other identifies could find their shade. The Egyptians must learn to be Egyptians first. Then let them enjoy their religio-ethnic freedom, supported by democratic principles of rule.

I remain sad that it has come to this. It is just another bloodless coup by calculating senior military officers who have much to lose should they not maintain their own vaunted status as the guardians of the public good. This also, is a useful script.

Democracy is not born in an instant.  It is organic in nature. It nestles within the soil of men’s hearts. It is nurtured in native soil. But the seed which sprouts is like a redwood.  The growth pattern is slow and the shadow of the tree of democracy emerges slowly.  This shadow is noted in the writings of men such as Jean Jacques Rousseau. His works, “On the Social Contract” and “Discourse on the Origin of Inequality” still echo through the centuries.  They bid us to incline our ear to understand the nature of political systems intermeshed with the condition of man. Other philosophic and political thinkers come to mind. You get the point. Democracy cannot be bought. It must be earned.

True democracy will not be minimally experienced in Egypt until the third generation of those who rose up against their masters. Democracy is a slow-unfolding miracle. But the democratic experiment cannot come to maturity within population groups unwilling to give due political process a chance.

The Arab Spring has the look of a field of radishes.  Nascent hopes are quickly dashed. Just as a radish has a rapid cultivation cycle; just as it can as quickly be popped into the mouth and consumed; so goes Egypt.  The Egyptian people are just the latest radish farmers.

Here is the deal.   President Morsi may not have been the best choice. His administration stands accused of coming to power with a combination of fraudulent actions and more than a few eager international helpers. I cannot confirm such things.  But stability precedes democracy.  It cannot exist without it. The citizens must learn to engage the quiet grass-roots activism which precedes each election cycle.  In my own nation we can be disappointed with political outcome. But we know that another election cycle will allow us to work again for the common good. We embrace small victories and swallow hard when our party loses.  It is a superior action to place one good man into office in quiet manner than to follow the Egyptian model.

Let me end on a note of hope borrowed from a book which is considered a literary masterpiece:

“At least there is hope for a tree. If it is cut down it will sprout again, and its new shoots will not fail.  Its roots may grow old in the ground and its stump die in the soil, yet at the scent of water it will bud and put forth shoots like a plant.”  Job 14:7-9

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