Islam May Be the Answer, Democracy Is the Solution

With the exception of Libya, Arab voters, when called to the polls, have answered by putting Islamist parties in power -- in Morocco, in Tunisia, in Egypt, and, perhaps eventually, in Syria. The United States should live with this situation, and accept it.

The Arab world has changed in the last 40 years with the access of people to TV, the Internet and social networks. The once-derided "Western-style democracy," often referred to as "ballot-box democracy," has now been embraced: most strikingly, an election has placed in the leading position in Egypt, the Presidency, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Autocratic, military-run regimes have been discredited. The people want to be treated with dignity, and to have a say in their future. Democracy is the durable element that has come out of the Arab Spring. It is a place where all can meet on a common ground, without religious-based rancors.

The world has turned upside down: in Egypt, instead of throwing its support to the secular-minded generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the U.S. is tilting the balance in favor of civilian rule. As our sure-footed Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, stated on 15 July in Cairo, "President Morsi made clear that he understands the success of his presidency and, indeed, of Egypt's democratic transition, depend on building consensus across the Egyptian political spectrum, to work on a constitution at Parliament, to protect civil society, to draft a new constitution that will be respected by all, and to assert the full authority of the Presidency."

But also, in a bow to the military and other secularists who fear that an Islamist regime would cut off religious freedoms, Mrs. Clinton added, "Democracy is not just about reflecting the will of the majority. It is also about protecting the rights of the minority."

In an email exchange I had with an Egyptian graduate student at Harvard following the visit of Mrs. Clinton, this is what she had to say:

"I do agree with you on the situation in the Arab world. It seems to me that there is no going back on democracy, or some form of popular participation in political decision-making. All we can hope for is that each state can gradually find its way to a more stable, pluralistic political system. Although some days I can feel quite let down by certain outcomes, I am confident that we have crossed the point of no return -- and that is definitely a good thing!"