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What Egypt Can Learn From Iraq, and Vice Versa

Author: Meghan L. O'Sullivan, Adjunct Senior Fellow
July 10, 2013


While arguing over the merits of continuing U.S. aid to Egypt, commentators and analysts tend to agree on two main points. First, there is a general consensus on what President Mohamed Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood got wrong. Second, virtually all Western observers are stressing the need for an inclusive government in Egypt. In the first point, Egypt offers a lesson to Iraq and, in the second, Iraq offers a lesson to Egypt. Together, they point to the direction U.S. policy should take.

Events in Egypt show that majoritarian democracy doesn't work in transitional societies. Even when a party has won a commanding electoral victory -- which wasn't the case in Egypt -- it must still seek continued legitimacy by addressing the needs and desires of those outside its direct constituency. Because of the weakness of other institutions in transitional societies, a strict majoritarian democracy is likely to leave certain populations more powerless than they would be in mature democracies. And political alienation breeds discontent and impatience, as we saw on Egypt's streets last week.

Mursi governed Egypt as if his slim electoral victory gave him a mandate to transform the country into the state that the Muslim Brotherhood envisioned, regardless of the wishes of the rest of Egyptians.

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