There is little question that the ouster of Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi is a serious matter that sets a horrible, albeit entirely predictable, precedent that could further inflame the tinderbox that is the Middle East.
Morsi, the first democratically elected Egyptian leader in 30 years, was run out of office after only a year in what was nothing short of a military coup. Morsi had been the standard-bearer of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic political party that had been banned under the dictatorship of former President Hosni Mubarak.
The party and Morsi sought to make government and governance subservient to religion, which worried many in the world as it created images of another Iran. However, Morsi did, after all, win a national election by a margin slightly greater than Barack Obama received five months later, so it was difficult to question his legitimacy.
For those paying close attention, this experience has reinforced some long-standing and universal political truths about the democratic process that are ignored -- although they often are -- at one's peril.
The first is that democracy is messy and not easily controlled. Once people have a taste of political power, they tend to exercise it -- sometimes to excess, and not always responsibly.
Second, winning an election, especially with only 52 percent of the vote, is not necessarily a mandate. Politicians in this country as well as others make this mistake repeatedly. Elections are nothing more than a snapshot of how people felt about the choice they had at the time they voted. It is quite often the case that rather than choosing Candidate A and his policies voters are merely rejecting Candidate B and his. The difference in those two narratives is substantial, and not recognizing it can be a serious career mistake for any politician.
The final truth on display is that elections in and of themselves do not make a democracy. Saddam Hussein had plenty of elections in Iraq, but one would never mistake Hussein's Iraq for a democracy.
In fact, true democracy occurs only when there is a peaceful transfer of power that is based on popular vote. That has yet to occur in Egypt. Mubarak was a dictator who was run out of office by the military and mobs in the street, and Morsi never got the opportunity to relinquish power through a second election. It was the military who stepped in and hastened his exit.
We, like many in the west, have longed for a day when the people of the Middle East will demand implementation of democratic principles so that they may control their governments. But if the Egypt experience is any barometer, we have a long way to go.