The WSJ ran an editorial today, criticizing Egyptian generals for hastening the process of democratic transition in the country. Today’s referendum was held to adopt constitutional amendments that would lay down the foundations of a functioning democracy, hoping to put the reins of power in the hands of civilians through free elections as early as this summer. But by rushing things up, the military is perhaps unconsciously handing power to the most organized group in the country: the Muslim Brotherhood, an extremist political group that has a stake in the upcoming parliamentary elections.
Some analysts say that this is a good thing, however. A restrictive democracy that excludes the Muslim Brotherhood is bound to fail. Marginalizing the group will lead to all kinds of complications, they say, including giving them ammunitions, intellectual and otherwise, to engage in terror-related activities.
But this thinking is premised on the assumption that Egypt’s liberal culture is strong and stable, and, therefore, is able to withstand conflicting interests among competing groups. But it isn’t so. Its liberal culture is still weak. It cannot afford to hand its democratic space to extremist elements that may sooner or later undermine its very existence.
I say this in light of the Philippine society’s experience with the Filipino communist movement, an underground movement that continues to exist despite decades of persecution by the Philippine government. What is the secret of its longevity? It created an aboveground faction from within itself that would assume an identity of a legitimate political organization, a regular player with a legitimate role on the country’s political stage. Calling themselves mainstream parliamentarians, this group of Filipino communists has been successful in pursuing its ideological agenda by fielding its members to positions of power in the Philippine government. From the kinds of policies they espouse, they’ve never had it so good! And so easy! For at their disposal is nothing less than legitimate political power.
Legitimizing extremist groups in the name of democracy has a way of legitimizing the existence of the enemies of democracy. Democracy is not a free-for-all enterprise. It has political and moral limits.