Global Ethics Corner: Egypt: Democracy or Demography?

Friday, February 4, 2011

Two tidal waves are overwhelming Egypt and possibly the Middle East: democracy and demography. They can converge or conflict, directing the currents may be impossible, and the outcome is uncertain.

A potent force has helped shape politics since the late 1700s: the idea of popular sovereignty, the idea that a government's legitimacy rests on the will of its people.

With this idea, the numbers of democracies, while waxing and waning through a series of waves, has grown inexorably.

In the nightly news, Egyptians on the street and of all ages eloquently voice their demand to join this trend.

Second, the Middle East is being engulfed by a tsunami of frustrated young people between 15 and 35. The young can be especially impatient with the present, idealistic about the future, and insistent upon rapid change.

The J-curve hypothesis says that revolution is most likely when the gap is greatest between what people have and their aspirations. Young Egyptians' aspirations are high, driven by better education and access to global media.

While peaceful evolution from authoritarian rule often leads to democracy, the results of uprisings are more problematic. For every positive example like the Philippines, there is an Islamic Revolution in Iran, or historically the American versus the French revolutions.

What do you think? Can a youthful imperative for rapid change amplify or diminish the growth of democracy? Can a populist revolution contain the seeds of an authoritarian regime? Can the two waves be channeled to match aspirations with outcomes?

By William Vocke

Photos in order of Appearance:

Jean Duplessis-Bertaux
Maureen Murphy
Nasser Nouri
Nasser Nouri
Ahmad Hammoud
Omar Robert Hamilton
Joey de Vera
John Trumbull
Ahmad Hammoud
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