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America’s founders set up many obstacles to majority rule on purpose. George Washington, for example, defined the role of the Senate – where the two votes of tiny Rhode Island equal those of California – as the saucer to cool the hot tea of populist bills passed by the House. A president’s veto can be overridden only by supermajorities in Congress. And the Supreme Court stands guard to keep the majority from stepping on minority rights.
Democracy would also fail if a minority could also command a veto power in every case. Each country must find a solution to the tension between its majorities and minorities as well as between a constitution and the results of elections.
In Egypt’s case, the dominant Islamists have only begun to accept legal protections for non-Muslims based on a concept of citizenship for all. For Islam’s sake, this is the right course. A recent Pew Research Center poll found a majority or substantial minority of people in the Middle East and North Africa believe it is possible to interpret Islam’s teachings in multiple ways.
And as democracy advances in the region, a international group of leading Muslim scholars is leading an effort to define an Islamic basis for citizenship and the rights of minorities.
Democracy cannot consist only of two wolves and sheep deciding what to have for dinner. Listening to others in a democracy helps raise individuals out of themselves in hopes of grander visions of the common good. If Egypt can succeed in that, others in the Arab world may follow.