Voters elected a new dictator
There's been change in the Middle East, but there's no great reason for hope.
If more proof was needed that an election does not make a democracy, news last week out of Egypt should put the debate to an end.
Egyptian President Mahomed Morsi decided that he didn't like his powers limited by traditional democratic checks and balances, like an independent judiciary or votes by the public to retain or change the country's leader. So, declaring his action to be "God's will," Morsi last week announced that he's putting himself and his party, the Egyptian Brotherhood, permanently in charge.
It has become increasingly clear in recent months that Egyptians who drove Hosni Mubarak from power managed only to replace a brutal dictator with one even worse than his predecessor. Now it's official.
Many of the same people who drove Mubarak from power are protesting in the streets of Cairo to persuade Morsi to change his mind or force him out of office. Good luck to them. They'll need it.
Mubarak was, for the most part, restrained in his response to demonstrators. He wanted to get tough with them and crush the insurrection. But, largely in response to American pressure, he did not. Consequently, Mubarak was driven from office.
It's hard to believe that Morsi will make the same mistake. One characteristic that people of his ideological and religious zeal possess in ample quantities is resolve, and it's a virtual certainty that he's determined to maintain power in his quest to turn Egypt into a theocracy similar to Iran.
Morsi also doesn't have to worry about this country pressuring him into going easy on dissenters because he has somehow contrived to make himself important to the Obama administration.
It was just last week, before Morsi seized full power, when U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Morsi and Egypt a stabilizing force in an unstable Middle East, praising him for his role in the brokering of a so-called cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.
In response to periodic bombing attacks organized by Hamas, Israel struck back in the Gaza Strip, aiming to take out Hamas leaders and destroy weapons supplies and sites where Hamas launched its attacks.
The problem is that since Mubarak is out and Morsi is in, Egypt's peace agreement with Israel, one negotiated by former Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, is in jeopardy. Morsi has made it clear that he has no use for Israel's continued existence, so any hope that he'll be an honest broker of the cease-fire is naive, at best.
So it would seem only a matter of time before Hamas resumes its rocket attacks on Israeli civilians with the full support of Iran and, perhaps, Egypt.
The Middle East is always on the verge of violence, sometimes involving Israel and Arab countries and sometimes between rival Arab countries. But circumstances these days seem especially dangerous. Iran continues to pursue a nuclear weapons program, one that Israel is determined to block. Civil war continues to rage in Syria, one of a series of Arab countries where beleaguered citizens are challenging dictatorial leaders. But as Egypt has demonstrated, it's one thing to topple a dictator and quite another to build a democratic country where the majority rules and the rights of political minorities are respected.