Cargo Cult Democracy

in «Politics & Human Rights» by mostafa

Warning! This post is very old and may contain information or opinions that are no longer valid or embarrassing.

Richard Feynman was a Nobel prize winning American physicist who wrote a fascinating autobiography called Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman! It documents his eccentricities and adventures throughout his life. From how he taught himself how to fix radios as a kid to his work on the Manhattan project (that developed the US atomic bomb) to how he learned to play samba music in Brazil.

In his book, he explains the difference between real science and junk science (or pseudoscience). I'll quote him directly.

"In the South Seas there is a cargo cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas– he’s the controller–and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things cargo cult science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land."

This is exactly the state of democracy under Morsy. Imitation of the form and tools of democracy. Ballot boxes, constitution writing committee, etc. but no content. No functioning radios or fuel for the planes to land.

The Muslim Brotherhood and Morsy have built a fake or junk democracy just like the cargo cult. This analogy is limited of course but if we take time a little bit backwards and forwards we can explain few things.

On that island there are people who know how to build radios needed to contact airplanes, but the cult refused to let them take part in the construction of the airport. Just because they didn't belong to their cult. They also refused to acknowledge that their airport wasn't functional and asked people, despite protests from several those who were knowledgeable, to wait and see. A year later, when no planes landed and after many heated arguments with the rest of the population of the island. The people staged a rebellion and destroyed the airport and burned it down.

Meanwhile near the shores of the island a ship coming from a land where airports are common saw the destruction of the airport. The were shocked at how people would destroy such a valuable asset, oblivious to its importance for their development.

Similarly, some foreign observers think that people destroyed the newly built democracy. Except that if they were able to look closely they'd see that it's a fake democracy that had no function, except perhaps to that particular cult.

Just as any analogy, this one has limitations. The role of the army, police and Mubarak regime actors aren't represented (perhaps you can say they owned a corrupt sea port that worked and had interest ind destroying the airport, but then things become too complicated). There are several other factors that can be added to this story but I'd leave that to your imagination.

Democracy maybe alive and well elsewhere, not in Egypt. Such system is yet to be established and won't be established by the brotherhood or the new regime. If you think that June 30 has destroyed a nascent democracy and that the Muslim Brotherhood are democrats then I invite you to anchor your ship and come join us on our island and see for yourself the ruins of the fake democracy build by the Brotherhood.

PS: After writing this I realised that an airport can be a reference to Shafik, this wasn't intentional.