Tuesday, 09 July 2013

Democracy undergoing change If you ever wondered quite what is wrong with the model of representative democracy so often steadfastly defended by western politicians, the recent commentary on developments in Egypt should help to clarify. Apart from the unexpected source of the letters column in today's Times, all I have heard and read amounts to hand-wringing condemnation of the 'abandonment' of democratic princples with the downfall of the elected president Morsi. It's not abandonment, it's pursuit. Our commentators, especially the politicians, seem determined to perpetuate the idea that occasional elections are pretty much all there is to democracy, and any further involvement of citizens is an inconvenience to be discouraged. It's a bit pathetic, not just because it's the usual cadre of Haves exposing their privilege and pompous patronage, but also because it's stupid. What has happened in Egypt is about democatic progress - in spite of the massively dubious, US-supported role of the military; and even if it fails - but it's a different kind of democracy to the tired and partial hierarchical model our politicians self-servingly try to protect. Because it's already reflecting a new empowerment of horizontal networks. True, one of the vertical networks remains dominant, but it can only be wielded in combination with the power of citizens acting collectively. It's a critical moment. Democracy either goes forward - celebrating the power of citizens to get the kind they want rather than the version politicians want them to have - or it gets smothered. The world's influential commentators need to get the point and back the movement, not quibble about arcane terms and conditions.

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