Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Egypt's Shameful Election Bans May Save Democracy

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Egypt's Shameful Election Bans May Save Democracy

Article excerpt

When is a democracy not a democracy? Here's one answer: If you're free to vote for any of the candidates on the ballot, but your favorite candidate is blocked from running.

Egypt seems to have taken a big step down the path of undemocratic democracy. Its Supreme Presidential Electoral Commission blocked three of the most important, viable and potentially popular candidates from the presidential elections slated for late May. This upended the field and cast the political process into disarray. It all but ensured the next president of Egypt will be a weak one, destined to defer to the military even if the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces renounces formal political power.

Despite how bad this looks, the commission may also have done Egypt's long-term prospects for democracy a big favor.

The banned candidates span a wide political range. The most reactionary is Hazem Abou Ismail, an Islamist who never got the memo explaining to the new Islamic democrats that to win elections you have to be moderate. Neither did his supporters. Mr. Abou Ismail was surging on a platform of familiar, if apparently outdated, conservative Islamist rhetoric, taking a hard line on Islamic law and women's rights.

Like other Salafis who did impressively well in Egypt's parliamentary elections this past winter, Mr. Abou Ismail is a populist who appeals to many poor and dispossessed Egyptians. But unlike those other Islamists, who remarkably have said they would respect the Camp David accords, he warned darkly that the United States and Israel "pay enormous sums of money to control the whole society."

It is certainly true that $1.6 billion in annual U.S. military and civilian aid is relevant to the other Islamists' willingness to accept peace with Israel. Mr. Abou Ismail's comment was not only inflammatory, it was also threatening to Egyptians who want to avoid the self-destructive madness of breaking a 30-year-old strategic alliance with the U. …

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