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Egypt's big lesson in democracy

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“Democracy requires much more than simple majority rule,” said a US State Department spokesman, Patrick Ventrell.

Mr. Morsi, who resorted to temporary tyranny in order to railroad the Constitution, conceded in a speech Wednesday that he had made mistakes “here and there.” Only after his victory did he display greater sincerity toward including the opposition in the government.

 “There is no alternative to a dialogue that is now a necessity,” he told Egyptians.

While the new charter passed with 63 percent of the ballots, voter turnout was low. Only 1 in 5 of eligible voters endorsed the draft document, reflecting a general disgust toward Morsi’s heavy-handed majoritarian rule. The Constitution itself includes vague protections for minorities while giving broad authority to unelected Islamic council.

Egypt is still learning that a republican democracy is merely a means – and the best one, at that – to define the public good. This requires a careful balancing between majority rule and minority rights, something that many Americans also fail to understand.

Constitutions, by their very nature, are a way to set down operating principles to run a society, such as basic freedoms, that majorities cannot violate. They are humanity’s way of acknowledging a higher good than temporary individual or collective wants. They are an institutional force to find common ground.

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