This year, the Middle East has been the center of tumultuous uprisings. The countries that have overcome and overthrown their oppressive leaders have been faced with the task of establishing a new system of government. As these conflicts arise, the United States has been promoting its democratic system and attempting to implement their own successful model. Although democracy has given numerous opportunities to American citizens, the question remains whether it is the right system for every country.
Though in the Declaration of Independence Jefferson settled on the three broad concepts of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, one can argue whether or not these are the fundamental basic human rights. Each member of society may define them differently, which suggests that ideas are bound to conflict. Due to this, Jefferson’s implementation of the social contract makes it very difficult to define what each citizen’s ideal rights are. Inherently, in society, everyone’s natural rights have a degree of limitation because one’s citizens rights can not infringe on another’s.
The Declaration of Independence embodied the natural rights that paved the way for the future of America. Not only did it enable citizens to have the freedom that they have today, it also provided a framework for many other countries. Natural rights, a cornerstone of the Declaration, are a fairly recent concept. They were conceived during the European Enlightenment, but there is no previous documentation. According to Michael Boylan’s 2011 New York Times article, natural rights are simply “social constructions” that are not necessarily entitlements, and they are created based on a “minimum standard of living.” The Declaration states that, “all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.” (The Declaration of Independence). If this is true, society does not have the power to grant these rights to citizens, and only the “Creator” can institute this. Therefore, these three concepts created by Locke, Hobbes, and Rousseau are simply theories, and can not be implemented by force.
The past year in Egypt has been one filled with change. The basis of the revolution was to bring a positive change to society, but there is debate as to whether this has actually happened. There is no doubt that the oppressive Mubarak regime was one that had to end, but is the implementation of democracy the right way to approach a new Egypt? As the Muslim Brotherhood seizes power, they promise the democracy that is highly desired. However, one can not neglect the fact that their base is a radical Islamist group. Therefore, implementing democracy could take a dangerous turn and jeopardize the welfare and natural rights of others. It is highly possible that the Muslim Brotherhood, although claiming that they are establishing a democratic society, could revert to Sharia law. An op-ed piece written by Raluca Besliu in 2012 states that, “Ironically, allowing the majority to democratically decide on this particular issue might bring Egypt closer to a less democratic regime, possibly centered around Sharia law.” Enacting democracy can in fact lead to a dangerous society, which can inevitably detract from natural rights. Thus, attempting to enforce democracy could end tragically, but is there a better choice?
The quintessential differences between American and Egyptian society are quite easy to distinguish. The Muslim Brotherhood has promised a democracy, similar to the one that America has enjoyed for almost three hundred years. The demarkation that separates America from Egypt is the failed history of democratic events. In the infamous revolution of 1954, the hope of democracy was quickly crushed as a military-enforced regime swept in, ruining any optimism that existed in the Egyptian community. An article written in 2011 by Omar Ashour states that, “Between July 1952 and October 1954, then-Major Gamal Abd al-Nasser initiated a structured process that destroyed Egypt’s democratic institutions and changed the system from a semi-democracy to a military dictatorship.” In addition, the chances that democracy will work in a country centered around religion is highly unlikely. According to the principals of the founding fathers, The United States is intended to be a country with the Church entirely separate from the State. Though many argue that this is not the case, it is clear that the government of the country is much less focused on religion than that of the population of Egypt. Although Jefferson didn’t initially include the separation of Church and state in the body of the Constitution, the founding fathers stated what he did not in the First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” (First Amendment). Therefore, it is difficult to tell how Egypt will react to a democratic government that is similar to the one of the United States. Whether or not the implementation of Sharia law is bound to occur, the fact remains that it is highly possible and this cannot coexist with democracy. Thus, using The Declaration of Independence as a model for a new Egypt would be ideal, it is highly unlikely to flourish. One must come to the realization that for democracy to succeed, Egypt’s government needs to be one that is separated largely from religion. Though the separation of Church and State that Jefferson realized while drafting the Declaration is crucial, his view of natural rights are not necessarily applicable to every country in the modern world. If this is not taken into account, using a model of democracy that does not fit the country’s needs could result in disaster and eventually generate an even more volatile situation than the one that already exists.
Maya Recanati, Age 14, Grade 8, The Dalton School, Gold Key