On Thursday, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi issued a decree granting himself nearly absolute power. His move is aimed at preventing the courts from attempting to dissolve the upper house of parliament or the constitutional assembly, both of which are dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Since then, daily protests have occurred and are still ongoing, and there have also been counter-protests in support of Morsi. Anti-Morsi demonstrators set fire to the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, to which Morsi belongs, in the Suez Canal cities of Suez and Port Said on Friday, and large protests are planned for today. Those who support Morsi believe that his actions are necessary to finish a stable transition following the overthrow of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak in February 2011.
But while it may be tempting for those who support Morsi to believe that he is acting in the best interests of the Egyptian people, history suggests a much different outcome. Let us look back to Rhodesia in 1980. Following the Rhodesian Bush War, which lasted from 1964 to 1979, Robert Mugabe was a hero in the minds of many Africans. Mugabe won a landslide victory in the elections of 1980, becoming the first Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. But a few years later, Mugabe’s ruling ZANU party engaged in massacres against the ZAPU party and Ndebele tribe between 1982 and 1985. In 1987, the position of Prime Minister was abolished and Mugabe assumed the new office of President of Zimbabwe, gaining additional powers in the process. Mugabe was re-elected in 1990 and 1996, and in 2002 and 2008 amid claims of widespread vote-rigging and intimidation. Mugabe’s land reform policies have been disastrous, and his mismanagement of the Zimbabwean economy has caused extreme hyperinflation.
Another example of the failure of democracy that should be familiar to everyone occurred on March 5, 1933. The Nazis failed to obtain an absolute majority, but the support they gained from the voters allowed the passage of the Enabling Act on March 23, which gave Adolf Hitler dictatorial powers and ended meaningful democratic processes in Germany until after World War II. Hitler and the Nazis would go on to cause the deaths of about 21 million people.
As Benjamin Franklin once said, “Democracy is two wolves and a lamb deciding on what to have for lunch.” The results of democratic elections are a reflection of the people who participate in them. As the above examples show, if an ill-informed or evil populace votes, then they will elect ill-informed or evil leaders. Even if leaders are not evil as they assume power, power tends to corrupt, absolute power corrupts absolutely, and enough time in power can turn any leader to the dark side. We must also remember that as with any other form of statism, those who do not wish to participate will be forced to do so by state power. Such a violation of the non-aggression principle means that democracy is immoral, and the above examples clearly show that even if democracy were moral, its efficacy in solving problems is highly suspect. Democracy will always eventually lead to despotism. In Egypt’s case, it is just happening much faster than normal.