Mentally unprepared to understand democracy

Political echoes

New York Times columnist David Brooks stirred some controversy a couple of weeks ago after he published an epic bland rant in his column about why he thinks Egyptians "lack the basic mental ingredients" for democracy, right after he defends the coup carried out by Egypt's military against Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood:

"Right now, as Walter Russell Mead of Bard College put it, there are large populations across the Middle East who feel intense rage and comprehensive dissatisfaction with the status quo but who have no practical idea how to make things better…

It's not that Egypt doesn't have a recipe for a democratic transition. It seems to lack even the basic mental ingredients."

Former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was apparently using the presidency to simply strengthen the political power of the Muslim Brotherhood (even if he thought he was doing Egypt some good through this), and ignoring the economy when the country most needed his attention on it. And with Morsi attacking Egypt's nascent democratic institutions, the public quickly turned on him and the Muslim Brotherhood, with protests than ended with his ouster and the ironic alliance between the military, many Egyptians who back the old Mubarak regime, and the secular liberal youth that began the revolution in the first place. And during that same weekend, dozens are now dead after clashes between the military and the now persecuted Muslim Brotherhood. There is no democracy in Egypt, I agree, but this is because of decades of intervention from outside forces, repression from within, the country's own diverse culture and an overall lack of experience with democracy, not because they are "mentally unprepared" or "incapable".

Some people point out that Brooks was referring to simply Islamist parties, but he clearly later applies his "diagnosis" to the entire population.

It was a racist comment, but, actually, let's set that aside for a while. He seems to think that Egyptians just don't get democracy, or more insidiously, can't. Brooks is a conservative, somewhat, so he thinks that only institutions get to participate in a democracy and there is never room for actual populism in expressing democratic will.

But, this quoted Egyptian woman protestor, ironically, from the New York Times, shows that Egypt does have a notion of what democracy is about:

"Why is it just ballot boxes? Are ballot boxes the only forms of democratic expression when the rulers fail the people? Why did we have to bear his bad administration at a time when the country cannot cope with such failure?"

The Mexican political class and system have actually used this to their advantage, by insisting that their institutions, corrupt as they may be, are the only ones that can churn-out change if you vote for them enough times. But this makes them complacent once in office, knowing the people will feel that their civic duty is over once they simply vote, and so it's business as usual; just "hope for the best" for the next three or six years.

The IFE repeats over and over again the idea that "your vote is the most important thing in a democratic process", insisting that if don't vote "then you don't have the right to complain" latter on. I'm not a fan of abstaining or nullifying your vote, but this is completely ridiculous, although indeed—and sadly—voting is the only democratic instrument we have in our system and culture, since we have little civic participation in our political process, reelection is non-existent in the country (there is no way to hold public officials accountable), transparency is lacking in almost every aspect, city council meetings aren't public or even have the infrastructure for them to be public, there aren't any referendums or independent candidacies, and hundreds of legislators around the country may live off taxpayers' money for years without actually facing an election.

I am not suggesting that we start protesting to solve every single issue. In fact, the need to protest on the streets or start a revolution like in Egypt every other year is a sign of institutors failing the people, or the people have little other ways to address their ills through the political process, and no democracy can survive without institutions meant to channel frustrations and violent urges. But that doesn't mean its people can't understand democracy or don't know why it fails, or that somehow they only want fast answers to everything, as Mr. Brooks suggest.


Jose Luis Sanchez Macias is a Communications major from the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California university. He has been part of the iDigital Creative Studio team in the city of Tijuana, as a Marketing Analyst and writing for some productions, as well as a collaborator on the first public television channel in the city, tvTijuana, highlighting his hosting duties in the CocinArte cooking show on the same channel, and general production assistant.

Currently, he works as a Writing and Editing Collaborator and Translator for the Bilingual Business Development Magazine, Business Conexión in Tijuana.


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