Can Egypt, or indeed can any Muslim state ever embrace democracy as we understand and practise it in the West? For many years now, a defining feature of Western foreign policy has been the promotion of democracy as a solution to political conflict throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

This is understandable as Western democratic states have shown remarkable peace and stability over the past 60 years. If Egypt and other Muslim societies were to become Western style democracies, the reasoning goes, they too would become stable societies. So the West supports the "Arab Spring" and democratic elections throughout the Middle East and North Africa.

The problem with this reasoning is that elections are not the basis of democracy. It is a common belief that elections define democracy. But in fact democratic elections are only the by-product, so to speak, of complex historical social values and institutions that are a prior necessity for elections to work. In other words, democracy presupposes a pre-political order, a set of preconditions, without which democratic elections will not work.

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