Throw the bastards out! That time-honored war cry wraps up democracy. The Sunday Times, a repository of genteel language, has lately run an editorial with the title, “The People Have Spoken, the Bastards.” This referred to the European Union elections in which a whole lot of Euro-sceptic parties made gains that momentarily seemed to favor the reforms that are necessary and that the majority hanker for. A few days have been enough to show that the numbers are meaningless, the bastards have not been thrown out but will carry on as before. It used to be that far-flung peoples imitated the practice of Europeans. Now Europeans are imitating the practice of far-flung people.
The symmetry of the Egyptian and Syrian elections is marvelous. The winners, the Egyptian Abdul Fattah el-Sisi and the Syrian Bashar Assad, declared votes in the range of 90 percent or higher. The single opposition candidate in Egypt got 3 percent, and the two opposition candidates in Syria got 4and 3 percent. Observers report all the usual underhand tricks.
Nobody is taken in by charades that have nothing to do with legitimacy, choice, representation, and other features of democracy. They are shows of strength, pure and simple. Sisi is making plain that he will continue to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood. He will arrest, imprison, and sentence them to death, and if need be, execute some by way of example. Bashar Assad is making plain that he will continue to hold power even if he has to destroy Syria in the process and kill tens of thousands.
Things are less fraught in Europe for the moment, so the comparison doesn’t hold exactly, but those who run the EU are making plain that it is the public who will be dismissed as a result of elections, not them.