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The crisis of representative democracy, examined by Al-Ahram's Democracy Magazine

April's issue of Democracy covers a wide range of issues concerning the health and challenges to democracy, in the West but by extension globally

Ossama Lotfy Fateem , Sunday 21 Apr 2019
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Democracy Magazine logo

Quarterly periodical Democracy, published by Al-Ahram organisation, discussed in its April issue the crisis of representative democracy. The issue can be summarised in one phrase, “You do not represent us,” according to an op ed piece by editor-in-chief Hannaa Ebied.

The gap between the masses and the political elite is growing wider; the level of trust in representative mechanisms is at it lowest point ever, with people taking into the streets and using the tactics of direct protest as a means of pressure. The rise of the right wing in many countries where this was unthinkable just a few years ago has complicated the scene even further. These factors have put representative democracy under the microscope of political researchers. The system that was considered by many political thinkers as the optimum ruling structure is in deep trouble, a crisis can no longer be ignored. The fact that the crisis was felt inside the Western model of democracy itself led to attempts to rectify problems from within.

In about a dozen articles and studies, the crisis is explored in its various aspects. From whether it is a crisis of democracy or a crisis of capitalism, and examining the financial crisis in the West, and how the right wing exploited financial conditions to play on the fears of the masses in the US and Italy, among other countries, gaining strength in Austria, Germany, Hungary and even in France, the issue touches on immigrants and minorities, the increase of hate speech intertwined with national identity and race, that threaten the gains that democracy acquired in Europe since World War II.

Finding ways to transform representative democracy into direct democracy, especially in the wake of the decrease in political participation in various countries, coupled with scandals, whether moral or of corruption, in Western democracies is also explored. Suggested solutions vary from referundums on key issues to petitions and other means to bring power back to the people. In brief, it is time to amend the system of representative democracy to allow more popular participation.

The issue also contained several papers on the development of Egyptian society. The “compound communities" that are expanding in Egypt are explored with the motivation for their development found to fall somewhere between protection, deterrence and fear of a potential revolution of the hungry, to trying to gain social status by living in distinguished communities. The expansion of cities in the countryside, and how the middle class is expressing itself urbanely and socially, reinventing itself while breaking old traditions, is also examined.

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