Many moons ago—while I was a child in a newly liberated East European country after the Second World War—people were excited at the prospect of free and democratic elections.
They were supposed to bring progress and prosperity for all the people there after a decade of a cruel Nazi dictatorship. As I still remember, many were queueing on election day to cast their ballots for the newly formed alliance of Social Democratic, Socialist, Liberal, and Communist parties, united under the sign of a shining sun, the symbol of better things to come.
A number of older and obviously grumpy political leaders, mostly from the Christian side of the political spectrum, kept warning that the people should remember the lesson of a dozen of years earlier in Germany. That's when a similarly patriotic and popular agenda swept the National Socialists to power under Adolf Hitler, giving them the mandate through a resounding election victory to run the country for the benefit of all. What happened afterward was inscribed in bloody letters in the annals of the 20th century.
This history repeated itself in my home country of Romania after the election of the "sun" coalition in the late 1940s. The government controlled by the Communists first included representatives of all other political formations, albeit in minor positions. But the ink was not even totally dry on the appointment papers when former Communist allies started disappearing into the dungeons of the secret police.
The judiciary was filled with party hacks, and false accusations of collusion with the "imperialists" followed. Show trials were then instigated, where some "turncoats" appeared as witnesses, until the "reds" were firmly entrenched in power.
Interestingly, the same turncoats, once their usefulness was gone, soon joined their victims behind the iron bars.
The Communists had no further concerns about those who naively voted for them, whom they kept under a reign of terror for over four decades.
And what did the people in Romania call the dictators who kept their "subjects" in chains after tricking their way to power? The "New Dracula", even though the original Vlad the Impaler only terrorized outside enemies, while protecting his folk.
If not for the collapse of the Soviet empire in the late 1980s under the burden of a colossal economic failure—combined with the democratic movement emerging first from Poland a few years earlier—the Communist Draculas, in new incarnations, would still be unchallenged. Red flags would still be flying over buildings from Moscow to East Berlin and from Warsaw to Bucharest.
Has the world learned anything from the past examples of "free elections" in some countries, hailed as the signs of a new era of democracy but turned by the victors into cruel dictatorships? This, of course, came after they felt secure enough to throw away their false promises and grand declarations of brotherly love for all citizens.
We are now witnessing the emergence of a new "Pharaoh" in another part of the world—Egypt. President Mohammad Morsi seems to be following the same pattern of using apparently free elections to speedily impose his unchecked iron will on people who were happy to have just escaped another dictator, Hosni Mubarak.
Remember the euphoria before, during, and after the Arab Spring when people occupied the main square in Cairo for weeks, confronting the police and ultimately toppling Mubarak's government? Remember the calls from Morsi's group, the Muslim Brotherhood, demanding that protesters should be free to demonstrate whenever they want and that the government should not interfere with the army or the judiciary?
But now in power, Morsi and his followers are singing another tune.
The military was reined in, the judges are being dismissed en masse, and there will be no parliamentary procedure. The Pharaoh announced this week that he will govern by presidential decrees, not subject to any control, checks, and balances.
Mubarak, at least, waited for almost 10 years to impose his might, and even then he showed some respect for the judiciary, even when Islamic activists were acquitted for starting riots targeting Coptic Christians and others.
Morsi, however, seems to be in a hurry to impose his strong grip on the country. Of course, demonstrators have once again been confronted by police forces with tear gas and truncheons.
What should the Western world do when facing a new dictator intent on imposing stringent religious tyranny, which most of his fellow citizens don't accept? Nothing that can be interpreted as outside intervention, which would give Morsi and his henchmen the cover they want to claim to be defending Egypt's sovereignty and independence.
But this should not prevent us from withholding our tax dollars in foreign aid until Morsi returns to the democratic rule he promised before being elected.
If he wants to use an iron fist, at least he shouldn't have our money in the other hand.
Jack Chivo is a retired journalist who lives in West Vamcouver.