Give democracy a chance
Mohammed Morsi's victory in Egypt's first, ever, free and fair Presidential elections has led to feverish hand-wringing. Rick Santorum - a former contender for the Republican nomination - claims Egypt would be 'better off' if their revolution had never happened and Mubarak remained in power. Melanie Phillips argues the West has let Egypt and the world down by allowing the popular putsch that led to Morsi's election. Countless others have taken to Twitter to express their disappointment and bemoan the supposed death of Middle Eastern democracy.
Of course, I have some sympathy for their concerns. Would I have voted for Mohammed Morsi and his band of Muslim Brotherhood Islamists? Of course not. For a start, as a gay Christian of Jewish ancestry I would have been far too frightened of the potential personal consequences. We must surely all understand and empathise with those Christian, gay, Jewish and secular Egyptians now fearing for their safety and security. But there are plenty of foreign leaders, past and present, elected by their people, who I wouldn't be able to vote for in a month of Sundays. Hollande (I'm a capitalist), Obama (I'm a hawk), Berlusconi (I'm a grown-up). In each of those cases - and more - I've criticised other people's bemusing electoral choices and prayed they'll change their minds at the next opportunity. In none of those cases have I written off the electorate, and the democratic rights, of the country concerned. The least we can offer Egypt is the same respect.
Of course we must be vigilant. We must make it clear to Morsi that Egypt's obligations - of human rights at home and respect for its international commitments (such as to Israel) abroad - cannot be disregarded simply by virtue of his democratic status. And, above all, we must watch closely to ensure that this first Egyptian election does not become the last. The second Morsi and the Brotherhood breach these promises the West must, as with any other country, make our outrage clear. But in the meantime we must afford Morsi the benefit of the doubt.
If, in five years time, the Egyptian people are given the opportunity to dump their President for somebody else then we can cautiously call democracy in Egypt a success. If they are not given that chance, we can mourn it as a failure. To do either pre-emptively is to do a disservice to Egyptians and to democratic principles. Moreover, it betrays an attitude of pessimism about the Arab world that risks proving many of their prejudices about us correct. The right thing for us to do now is to follow our own advice. For years we have urged Arabs to 'give democracy a chance' - we must now do the same.