One Western response to the Egyptian revolution was to back elections. These are far from a bad thing, but they are not the main thing. Thus far, post-Mubarak elections in Egypt have sparked further turmoil, alarm, disillusionment and fatalism among Western observers beguiled by the dream of a democratic triumph. “It’s not the French Revolution,” moaned an Israeli columnist.
This is, inadvertently, an instructive point. For if the bloody aftermath of the French Revolution proves anything, it is that a gap exists between the moment people decide they will no longer live in a society ruled by fear and the moment a democratic society forms — a society that will protect not only “correct” thinking but also the thoughts one hates.
Nothing is instantaneous in politics. To think of elections as a panacea, let alone a sure road to real democracy, is to evince a failure of historical imagination. The proper role of the free world is not to encourage or to stop elections. Its role should be to formulate, and to stick by, a policy of incremental change based on creating the institutions that will lead ineluctably to pressure for more and more representative forms of government. The free world should place its bet on freedom — the hope and demand of Tahrir Square — and work toward a civil society defined by that value.More...