The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

July 2, 2013

Washington understood military’s proper place in country’s democracy

It was a time of great turmoil.

The people were dissatisfied with the government and took to the streets demanding change.

Taxes were too high, the people felt disenfranchised and ignored by their leaders.

So they demonstrated their anger and frustration. Violence ensued, lives were lost, and the drums of revolution beat louder until the tattoo grew from rat-a-tat to full-throated rumble.

This was America in the 18th century, but it likewise is Egypt today.

Egypt finds itself in the midst of its second revolution in just over two years. Once again, angry Egyptians have taken to the streets, demanding a change in their country’s leadership.

In early 2011, demonstrators filled Cairo’s Tahrir Square, demanding the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.

Egyptians demonstrated for greater freedoms, but also for solutions to the country’s economic malaise.

The government fought back, hundreds died and thousands more were injured. But in the end, Mubarak was deposed.

The military took over, dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution. It took until 2012, but a civilian presidential election was held. Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, won.

In the months since an Islamist-backed constitution has been enacted, an Islamist-dominated legislature has been seated, and conditions in the country have not improved.

So the people are in Tahrir Square again. Monday, Egypt’s military gave Morsi 48 hours to meet the protesters’ demands or else they would impose their own “road map” for the future.

Tuesday Egypt’s state news agency said the military plans to suspend the constitution, dissolve the legislature and set up an interim administration.

Bringing forth a fledgling democracy is a chaotic, fluid process, which America learned 237 years ago.

After leading America’s army to victory in the Revolutionary War, George Washington dismantled his force and returned to life as a private citizen.

Washington was a firm believer in the tenet that the nation’s military should be subordinate to civilian authority.

“Overgrown military establishments are under any form of government inauspicious to liberty, and are to be regarded as particularly hostile to republican liberty,” Washington said.

Washington didn’t want to be king, he didn’t want to be some sort of military potentate, he didn’t even want to be president. In fact, he told his friend and future Secretary of War Henry Knox that his “Movements to the chair of government will be accompanied with feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution.”

But he took the job. He established the Supreme Court and the Cabinet, the U.S. Mint and the Coast Guard, put down the Whiskey Rebellion and guided the nation through the rocky waters of foreign relations.

Then, after reluctantly serving two terms in office, he refused to seek a third, instead choosing to retire to his farm.

Washington understood the principle espoused by President Obama on Tuesday as he spoke on the Egyptian crisis, “Democracy is about more than elections.”

Likewise, democracy is about more than political, military or economic power. It is about more than a charismatic candidate, or a slickly packaged message. It is about more than political parties and campaigns, talk show debates and record-low Congressional approval ratings.

Democracy is about making sure every voice is heard, every voice is heeded, every voice is represented.

And it also is about acknowledging that every voice is not going to sing in harmony with your own.

I fear until Egypt’s military takes a back seat to civilian government, that nation will continue to be in turmoil.

For the fact the same thing didn’t happen to the United States more than 230 years ago, we can thank George Washington.

Washington never addressed the situation in Egypt, of course, but he might as well have been when he wrote, in a letter to James Madison in March 1788, “Liberty, when it begins to take root, is a plant of rapid growth.”

And it grows, throughout this great nation, to this day. May it grow forever. Have a happy Independence Day.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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