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Dealing with Elected Autocrats, Like Morsi

by Joshua Kurlantzick
July 15, 2013

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi wave Egyptian flags, signs and masks of him as they gather at the Rabaa Adawiya square, where they are camping, in Cairo on July 12, 2013. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters) Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of deposed Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi wave Egyptian flags, signs and masks of him as they gather at the Rabaa Adawiya square, where they are camping, in Cairo on July 12, 2013. (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters)

As battles continue on the streets of Egypt, many Egyptians have argued that their country’s predicament is unique. With a long history of military rule, a vibrant Islamist movement, and a leadership role in the Arab world, Egypt, they argue, stands alone in its political transition – and must get that transition right for the Arab Spring really to have changed the Middle East.

While it is true that Egypt has long been the bellwether of the Middle East, the dilemma it now faces—initial democratic elections that bring to power an elected autocrat, who ignores constitutional liberties—is quite common.

As I detail in my book Democracy in Retreat, many first generation elected leaders in new democracies around the world have gone on to govern as quasi-dictators, which, in turn, has only served to fuel middle-class rage of the kind that has recently been seen in Cairo.

For more on policy options for handling these elected autocrats—options other than staging a coup—read my new piece in The National here.

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