As the pundits slam into full gear on the democracy movement in Egypt, beware of the stakes they have in justifying their ideas. For example, in the February 7 Washington Post, Fareed Zacharia, warns of the danger that Egypt will become not Turkey, but Pakistan, a sham democracy run by generals in the back room. If Egypt becomes an “illiberal democracy” the ire of the Egyptian democracy movement will then turn to blaming the US, as the military dictatorship’s enabler. For Zacharia, the “illiberal democracy” can actually arrive via “free and fair elections”, which would seem to be a head scratcher, unless you know that Zacharia invented the concept of “illiberal” democracy to argue, basically, that the rest of the world was going to have to hit all the benchmarks the West hit in achieving “liberal” democracy.

And as for elections: Zacharia said in a 2002 Harvard International Review article on US foreign policy, that while the US should push for human rights, it should be understood as political and economic rights rather than elections, which he called “proceduralism”.

Elections – fully democratic elections – are not mere “proceduralism”. They are at the heart of the Egyptian democracy movement. Universally, publics hate the corruption into which dictators always fall, and the lack of freedom they always entail. They want their voice. In Egypt, as in Iran, the individual’s vote, honestly counted, is an important sense of their dignity, their voice. They will not stop until they get that dignity.

Elections shouldn’t come at the end of some process – either a transition or Zacharia’s slow march to “liberal democracy.” Elections should come soon. Egyptian human rights activists Hossan Bahgat and Soha Abdelaty outlined exactly how that can happen in the Washington Post “What Mubarak must do Before Stepping Down,” WP 2/5. Zacharia may want to set up hatred of the US as the driving force behind the Egyptian democracy movement. The movement, however, seems undistracted and focuses not on hate but on reaching the goal they have set of establishing democratic institutions in Egypt.

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