Whether in Eastern Europe on the collapse of the Soviet Union, or South Africa on the collapse of apartheid, it was clear people wanted their voice to be heard. They wanted the respect and dignity they had been denied for so long. If they thought elections were fair and their vote counted as the equal of others, they lined up for hours to exercise their democratic rights.

Not all first elections in democratic transitions are good elections. Most are not. Voters can be voting for a parliament where a bloc of seats is reserved for the military (Indonesia) or where the eventual winner of elections wields an independent militia (Hamas in West Bank 2006 elections). Categorizing countries politically is almost to guarantee oversimplification. Is the United States a liberal democracy, given the role money plays in our elections? Certainly Egypt’s 2011 elections had many deeply controversial – and undemocratic – features.

It is simplistic to call what is happening in Egypt a coup against a democratically elected leader, if for no other reason than that democratically elected leaders can turn authoritarian once in office. Not that setting elections are not of prime importance as the first task of the post-Morsy government.

One lesson that can be drawn, both from the turmoil in Egypt and the recent elections in Iran, is that political participation is now what people are going to do. There was talk – and action- to boycott Egyptian 2011 elections. In Iran, boycotting elections has been a way to prove your political integrity. No more. Opposition Iranians did not boycott but participated in June’s elections, although they certainly weren’t democratic, with clerics picking who could and who could not run for office. As a result, Iranians elected as President the most liberal candidate available. Whether in Iran or Egypt democracy is coming to mean keeping at it. There is no rest for the weary.

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