Much of the discourse on the Egyptian revolution posits democracy as antithetical to stability. As Americans, we know better.
Our country is composed of people from all over the world with diverse political views ranging from the far right to the far left. We have communities of every faith, some of whom believe the others are doomed to eternal damnation. And yet we remain immune from the political instability experienced by other more homogenous nations.
Throughout our two hundred years, we have experienced economic, social, and political upheavals while remaining one of the most stable countries in the world. Our stability is not due to providence or mere good fortune. Rather it is our democratic institutions, individual rights, and the rule of law that shields us from the instability prevalent in nations ruled by dictators and monarchs.
Our democracy sustains our stability.
Hence if we seek stability in Egypt we should unequivocally support democracy for the Egyptian people. Not a diluted or superficial democracy based on a mere reshuffling of the usual suspects, but a fair and transparent system where the best and the brightest are elected by a people who will hold them accountable. And if they do not deliver, they will be expelled them from power through elections.
While authoritarian regimes may appear stable, it is a mirage. Their populations are seething with discontent, eagerly waiting for the first opportunity to overthrow their despised despots. In the absence of popular support, dictators retain power through torture and repression — often facilitated by military support and political cover from our government.
Thus it is a fallacy that dictatorships are inherently more stable. As we are now witnessing in Egypt and just witnessed in Tunisia, countries ruled by dictators are kegs waiting to explode. And the outcome is the farthest thing from stable.
Yet this fact is overlooked in the US government’s alarmist and infantilizing concerns about the challenges of establishing democracy in Egypt. The naysayers echo Omar Suleiman’s warnings that stability is more important than democracy, as if the two are mutually exclusive. They warn that immediate transition to democracy, as opposed to the textbook delay tactics of the Mubarak regime, will result in anarchy.
Our experiences in America directly contradict such claims. When voters became disaffected with failed Republican policies, the progressive left and youth mobilized in unprecedented numbers to elect the first African American president and bolstered the number of Democrats in Congress. Two years later when the Democrats failed to deliver on their economic growth policies, they were swiftly replaced with Tea Partyers seeking to reform what they perceived as a corrupted Washington. Despite the vitriol and entrenched opposition, we held our leaders accountable through the electoral process.
Moreover, a democratic Egypt creates the opportunities for a mutually beneficial economic and political relationship between the United States and Egypt. In addition to secure access to oil and gas, we benefit from transparent and vibrant emerging markets in which to sell our goods. In turn, Egypt needs foreign investment, technology transfer, and industrialization to develop the fullest potential of its extraordinary youth.
Democratically elected rulers will be held accountable by their people to grow Egypt’s economy. They will be expected to provide quality education and jobs for the youth. If these rulers embezzle state resources or abrogate civil rights, two hallmarks of the Mubarak regime, the Egyptians will expel them through the democratic process.
But when dictators, whether secular or religious, coercively rule a nation, mass revolt becomes the only means to pursue needed reform. As our own history demonstrates, there is a way to seek reform without paralyzing the economy or starting a civil war. It is called democracy.
Sahar Aziz is a Senior Fellow at the Center for Global Policy and an associate professor at Texas A&M University School of Law, where she teaches national security and Middle East law. She is also a member of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association. This article was initially published by The Huffington Post on February 10, 2011.