Saturday, April 14, 2012

An undemocratic decision gives Egyptian democracy a little more breating room for now

The New York Times is reporting that three of the leading candidates and seven others running for the presidency of Egypt have been ruled out by Egypt's election authorities and cannot appear on the ballots of their countrymen. This decision was not expected.

Election authorities eliminated three of the leading presidential candidates in one broad stroke on Saturday night in an unexpected decision that once again threw into disarray the contest to shape the future of Egypt after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak.

The ruling struck down the three most controversial candidates: Khairat el-Shater, the leading strategist of the Muslim Brotherhood; Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, an ultraconservative Islamist; and Omar Suleiman, Mr. Mubarak’s former vice president and intelligence chief.

Mr. Shater was ruled ineligible because of a criminal conviction at a political trial under Mr. Mubarak, the authoritarian president who ruled Egypt for nearly 30 years. Mr. Abu Ismail was disqualified because his mother was an American citizen, a violation of current Egyptian law. Elections authorities said Mr. Suleiman did not meet the signature requirement to qualify for the ballot. Of the 30,000 notarized signatures he submitted last weekend, 22,000 lacked adequate authentication or failed to meet other requirements, they said.

While these decisions appear to be based on flimsy grounds--other than for Mr. Suleiman--it is likely the case that this seemingly undemocratic decision makes it more likely that the winner will rule as a democrat.

The extreme Islamists certainly cannot be trusted to rule democratically. And a lackey for Mr. Mubarak likely would have tried to return Egypt to the status quo ante.

Yet this mass ouster from the ballot exposes the obvious: The Egyptian people who will decide who their next president is are probably not ready for democracy. When extreme Islamists and others who think fundamentalist religion belongs above all other considerations in state policy are so popular that they can win a majority of the seats in parliament and whose candidates can win the presidency, it makes clear to me that Egyptian democracy is in for a rocky ride. Ordinary Egyptians are too ignorant, too poorly educated and too poor to understand what their country really needs.

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