People power or mob rule?
Democracy has two Greek word parts: demos, meaning the people, and kratein, meaning rule. So, democracy means rule of the people.
Democracy is an emotionally laden word for most Americans. We cherish our democratic rights so much so that we actively encourage other countries to hold free and fair elections, as evidenced in our nation-building of Iraq and Afghanistan. We’re moved by pictures of Iraqis holding up purple index fingers to show they’ve voted.
Though arguably a better alternative to, say, autocracy (a rule by one) or plutocracy (government by the wealthy), pure democracy also has its shortcomings. In a pure democracy, everyone has a say in running the government, and the majority rules. While that may sound good on the surface, historians tell us that our Founding Fathers had their reservations.
Some were concerned about majority rule running rampant over the needs of the minority. So, they established our form of government as a republic, a system that allowed representatives to enact the wishes of their constituents and created laws to limit the power of government. The Founding Fathers did, of course, retain the democratic procedure of voting.
Ironically, then, Arab leaders may justifiably be concerned about democracy, at least in its purest form. Given the volatility of the region, pure democracy could descend into mob rule.
Egypt’s uprising against Hosni Mubarek, an autocrat who held power for nearly 30 years, has been a fascinating look into the determination of common people to rule themselves. Now we see a wave of other protests in the Middle East and North Africa.
As we watch Egypt’s ripple effect, let’s hope that both courage and wisdom guide our fellow citizens of the world in their quest for democracy.