When the Egyptian people stormed Tahrir Square back in 2011, many of us looked on with hope as an Arab country appeared to call for democracy. The farcical election in Iran a little bit earlier had demonstrated just how difficult such an event was in the Middle East, and many people looked at the action in Egypt with skepticism. But the fact that efforts were being made towards democracy marked something important in itself. Democracy, though an imperfect form of government, is a vital component of the modern liberal state. Though it seems that recently our country’s leaders have forgotten that.
After the Egypt’s recent military coup, American politicians have largely remained silent on the collapse of Egyptian democracy. Some protest the army’s slaughter of innocent civilians, but most remain silent about the fact that a democratic system has fallen. Peter Beinart, in his op-ed piece in The Daily Beast, calls the U.S. handling of the Egyptian crisis Obama’s biggest foreign policy blunder for just that reason.
The assumption that democracy is important for the Middle East has been severely challenged by this approach to American foreign policy. Bret Stephens of the Wall Street Journal argues that it is better to support so called liberal Arab policies, not necessarily democratic ones. But can a modern liberal states exist without democracy?
If we understand democracy to mean that the majority rules, then it would be critical for the Muslim Brotherhood, a popular Egyptian movement, to have a voice in the government. This means that, despite their Islamic agenda, their voices should be counted just like everyone else’s.
Of course, the current conversation around Egypt has serious implications for Israel and, more broadly speaking, for the Jewish people. Although the Egyptian military’s rule appears to be more useful to Israel’s military interests, we must remember that the Egyptian military does not necessarily represent the voice of the Egyptian people. And if there is to be a lasting peace in the region, it is probably a good idea for Israelis to realize this.
Jews throughout the centuries, and particularly in America, have advocated on behalf of human rights and democracy. This is not the time to sit back and be silent, and it is critical that American Jews continue to advocate on behalf of underrepresented people all over the world.
In order to be part of the larger conversation, it’s about time that we talk about the real implications of suspending an Arab democracy. Although the short term impact of such a move might seem useful to our foreign policy interests, it’s important to consider the long term implications of violating a people’s right to rule by vote.