The revenant (many would say ersatz) Egyptian, Mohamed ElBaradei, self-appointed and self-imputed leader of the "democracy" movement in his newly-discovered homeland, called yesterday on the army to commit a putsch against the government. The fawning, cliche-ridden, politically-correct, navel-gazing, and effete media in the West did not question this abrupt ideological shift: ElBaradei and the protesters in Tahrir Square have always claimed to be upholding Western values. Now, they are calling for yet another round of military dictatorship to replace Mubarak's. This is not reminiscent of other people's power revolutions, including the most recent one in Tunisia which is said to have inspired the Egyptian tumult.
The sad truth is that Omar Suleiman, Egypt's much-reviled Vice-President, is right; Egyptians are not ready for a democracy because they have never had one and because they are politically immature.
Recent trends such multiculturalism, political correctness, crowdsourcing (culling knowledge from the aggregated knowledge of computer users), and diversity are perceived as antidotes, counterweights, and forms of protest against the elitism and rationalism that led to the murderous authoritarian ideologies and regimes of the 20th centuries; to climate-changing pollution; and to the nuclear arsenal. The “people” now reassert themselves by seizing control of functions hitherto reserved to the few. This backlash and technology-driven revolution are widely equated with the restoration of “true democracy”.
Yet, democracy is not the rule of the people. Democracy is government by periodically vetted representatives of the people. Democracy is not tantamount to a continuous expression of the popular will as it pertains to a range of issues. Functioning and fair democracy is representative and not participatory. Participatory "people power" is mob rule (ochlocracy), not democracy.
Granted, "people power" is often required in order to establish democracy where it is unprecedented. Revolutions - velvet, rose, orange, and jasmine - recently introduced democracy in Eastern Europe and Tunisia, for instance. People power - mass street demonstrations - toppled obnoxious dictatorships from Iran to the Philippines and from Peru to Indonesia.
But once the institutions of democracy are in place and more or less functional, the people can and must rest. They should let their chosen delegates do the job they were elected to do. And they must hold their emissaries responsible and accountable in fair and free ballots once every two or four or five years.
Democracy and the rule of law are bulwarks against "the tyranny of the mighty (the privileged elites)". But, they should not yield a "dictatorship of the weak".
As heads of the state in Latin America, Africa, Asia, and East Europe can attest, these vital lessons are lost on the dozens of "new democracies" the world over. Many of these presidents and prime ministers, though democratically elected (multiply, in some cases), have fallen prey to enraged and vigorous "people power" movements in their countries.
And these breaches of the democratic tradition are not the only or most egregious ones.
The West boasts of the three waves of democratization that swept across the world since 1975. Yet, in most developing countries and nations in transition, "democracy" is an empty word. Granted, the hallmarks of democracy are there: candidate lists, parties, election propaganda, a plurality of media, and voting. But its quiddity is absent. The democratic principles are institutions are being consistently hollowed out and rendered mock by election fraud, exclusionary policies, cronyism, corruption, intimidation, and collusion with Western interests, both commercial and political.
The new "democracies" are thinly-disguised and criminalized plutocracies (recall the Russian oligarchs), authoritarian regimes (Central Asia and the Caucasus), or pupeteered heterarchies (Macedonia, Bosnia, and Iraq, to mention three recent examples).
The new "democracies" suffer from many of the same ills that afflict their veteran role models: murky campaign finances; venal revolving doors between state administration and private enterprise; endemic corruption, nepotism, and cronyism; self-censoring media; socially, economically, and politically excluded minorities; and so on. But while this malaise does not threaten the foundations of the United States and France - it does imperil the stability and future of the likes of Ukraine, Serbia, and Moldova, Indonesia, Mexico, and Bolivia.