According to the Democracy Index, a project run by the Economist Intelligence Unit, there were nearly 1500 protests in Egypt in July. In the anticipation and aftermath of the removal of former president Mohammed Morsi, demonstrators in Egypt produced one of the largest nationwide street movements in world history.

As reported by the Index, 30 million protesters participated in demonstrations against Morsi. By contrast, an estimated one million engaged in pro-Morsi demonstrations.

Egypt, Protests

It’s unclear to me how the EIU arrived at these numbers (more data is available — with what seems to me to be skewed commentary — at Ahram Online). But I generally trust the Economist, and these numbers, even if they’re a bit off, are pretty staggering.

It seems the military had overwhelming support (and still does) in removing Morsi, who had alienated everyone outside the Muslim Brotherhood in a year-long power-grab. Even so, a majority of 30 to 1 doesn’t make an undemocratic position democratic.

We’re reminded of this political reality by German wonk Carl Schmitt, who said: “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.”

What in the world does that mean?

It means power is in the hands of the person who can break the rules and get away with it. In Egypt, the military was allowed to break the rules of democracy and the constitution by dethroning a democratically-elected president. It may be true that the majority of Egyptians wanted Morsi removed, but it should have come by way of a vote, not an army KO.

Democracy works because of rules. The peoples’ and especially the government’s ability to abide by those rules is what makes the system legitimate. Thirty to one drowns out the minority, and we may not be sad to see Morsi gone, but the military’s move doesn’t set a good precedent for constitutionality or minority rights. When all is said and done, bypassing procedure may be popular, but it’s not democracy.

Posted by Griffin Paul Jackson


  1. Gordon DeBlaey August 2, 2013 at 8:38 am

    I agree, but could it be a legitimate step towards democracy?


    1. Griffin Paul Jackson August 2, 2013 at 2:45 pm

      I think we might end up saying the ends justified the means, but that doesn’t make the means legitimate. So, I would say it was an illegitimate step (by virtue of it being undemocratic), and it sets a bad precedent for the future (what happens if the next president is unpopular?), but it’s not as though we can rule out democracy for Egypt.


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