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Germany yesterday commemorated the 80th anniversary of the takeover of Hitler as the chancellor. Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, while speaking at an event in Berlin to mark the ascension to the throne of probably the most reviled figure in modern history, said that democracy, even today, cannot be taken for granted. The location for the German chancellor’s speech could not have been more appropriate. She talked about human rights, freedom and democracy at the ‘Topography of Terror,’ an exhibition in Berlin that shows the German dictator’s rise to power and the atrocities committed by his regime on Jews.
A few days ahead of the anniversary, Merkel affirmed that Germany had a duty as far as the Holocaust is concerned and it has never shied from conceding the facts of history. Her words may sound simple and rehearsed, but they are true.
Ironically, as Germany marked the day when the perpetrator of the Holocaust was crowned, it also hosted Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi. The man to succeed strongman Hosni Mubarak in the most populated country in the Arab world, is reaching out to Merkel in the hope of consolidating Egypt’s foundering economy and get a toehold in the German market.
In 2010, the former Brotherhood leader is said to have compared Jews with certain animals. He also purportedly advised Egyptians to bring up their children on a hatred of Jews. Understandably, Mursi’s visit drew scorn from Germans with protesters coming out in large numbers in the German capital. Driven into a corner, Mursi said yesterday that he was quoted out of context, a usual refrain for a politician who doesn’t want to take responsibility for his remarks.
As the German chancellor spoke about democracy she implied that her people should not take it as given. The mention of democracy may sound axiomatic today. As a political philosophy, it has much to be given credited for— from the late twentieth century to the present. However, the ground reality may be quite different. A large number of nations are still struggling to taste real democracy. Even elected governments which apparently look democratic and swear by different norms of freedom, act otherwise when it comes to practice. From Venezuela to Singapore and Sri Lanka to Belarus, democracy looks imperiled in various degrees. The Arab Spring was meant to usher in democratic governance, but most nations, including Egypt, which saw people throw out dictators, are struggling with granting basic freedoms to their citizens. The insurgency in Syria has become more of a sectarian conflict than one to pull down an authoritarian government.
There is a need to cherish every moment of democracy. It is to be nursed and protected, coddled and preserved—for its own good and for the good of the world. Ask those who don’t have it•