Democracy for Egypt?

Is it realistic for Egypt to become a democracy?

Protesters in Copley Square on Saturday held pro-democracy signs.

The question has been posed by newscasters, citizens and professors, but what is the actual answer? Well, I don’t think anyone actually knows, but here is what I think: It is going to take a long time for Egypt to reach a democracy (whatever that is, anyway). President Hosni Mubarak has maintained an authoritarian government in Egypt for at least 30 years.

Yesterday, in my “Journalism Ethics and Issues” class, Professor Nicholas Daniloff posed the same question. He also asked, “What is a democracy, anyway?” (To which no one in the class could quickly form an answer. Sadly, we as Americans don’t even know!)

Professor Daniloff told us that, when he was a foreign correspondent in Moscow, he asked people living in the Soviet Union what democracy means. Responses included, “The road to the stars,” “Everything in the stores” and “You can do whatever you want, wherever you want.”

But, according to Professor Daniloff, no one said, “One man, one vote.”

In his Gettysburg Address, President Abraham Lincoln said that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the Earth.”

Professor Daniloff said that the key to democracy is fair elections. But, a country can’t have fair elections without freedom of the press, a judicial system independent of the executive branch and equal distribution of wealth. I wonder if Egypt can attain Professor Daniloff’s version of democracy, as many people, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, seem to believe the country can.

In an interview with CBS’ Face the Nation on Jan. 30, Clinton said,

“We are very clearly asking…[to] start a process of national dialogue that will lead to a transition to such democracy…What President Mubarak himself said the other day, that they would begin to take concrete steps for democratic and economic reform we expect to see happen.”

I don’t agree with Clinton that Egypt is on the road to a fully defined democratic state, because there are various forms of democracy. Using Professor Daniloff’s view, I would argue that the United States isn’t even a full democracy because there isn’t equal distribution of wealth among American citizens.

Although I would love to see the Egyptians reach democratic agreements and transform their government, reality sets in. A state cannot become a democracy overnight. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof explains his point of view in a Feb. 5 article: “Should We Worry about Egypt Becoming Democratic?”

A common depiction from the American news media: Egyptian protesters holding a poster depicting Mubarak as a monster.

As a side note, but relating to Kristof:  While browsing through Kristof’s website for this week’s class reading assignments, I thought his multimedia package, “Meeting Mubarak’s Supporters,” was an interesting form of visual journalism. Although I support the citizens in Egypt, the American news media have mostly ignored the other side.

First inserted photo taken (by me) at the protests in Copley Square on Feb. 5.

Second inserted photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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