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What Senate filibuster deal tells young democracies like Egypt's

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Both Republicans and Democrats in the Senate had good reasons to “cut the difference” in this agreement.

The role of the Senate itself as a deliberative body and as a check on power was at stake. Its collective power would be diluted without safeguards for minority interests. The senators also do not want their chamber to be like the House, where majority power is absolute and leaders of each side rarely talk to each other.

As Egyptians have lately discovered, democracy cannot be a winner-take-all contest defined only by election results, which the Muslim Brotherhood believed, as shown by grabs at power, lack of inclusiveness, and disregard for those outside its Islamist group. Nor can any group be excluded from politics, as the military now seems to believe, seen in its arrest of Brotherhood leaders.

“If representatives of some of the largest parties in Egypt are detained or excluded, how are dialogue and participation possible?” said US Deputy Secretary of State William Burns on a trip to Cairo this week.

With proper checks and balances, government can encourage citizens to listen to each other and care about each other’s interests. At a base level, this creates mutual back-scratching deals, such as the Senate filibuster deal. At a higher level, it helps people understand how to balance the competing claims of the majority with those of either individuals or minority groups.

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