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The long-persecuted Muslim Brotherhood now holds power, but as Dan Murphy’s cover story explains, even people who voted for it in the three democratic elections it has now won are beginning to sour on it for using state power to tighten its grip on the country. Technically, democracy has come to Egypt. People have voted, and power has transferred out of the hands of the military – at least on the surface – and into the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood. But democracy is failing in reality because the newly empowered majority has been silencing dissent and disregarding the interests of minorities.
Nations coalesce around many things – history, language, religious heritage. They can be held together by force, as Egypt was from the time of the Pharaohs until the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. As one authoritarian ruler weakened, another rose up. Although that pattern can persist, it is ultimately unsustainable. Democracies are sustainable – but only if parties that win elections actively understand that they, too, can become unpopular, resented, and vulnerable to overthrow; that they may one day be the minority. Self-interest, in other words, is a very good reason to empathize.
The paradox is that Egyptians, more than any other people, have vivid reminders of the fleeting nature of power all around them – a surfeit of pyramids, temples, and statues marking Pharaonic immortality. Every monument to the great Ozymandiases of their day is now a colossal wreck. What has endured are the Egyptian people. It is out of their lives and experiences – not just the fortunate few, not just the newly empowered, but all Egyptians – that a functioning nation must be built.
John Yemma is editor of the Monitor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.