Browsing articles from "January, 2011"
Jan 31, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Call for Papers: D&S Vol. 8, Iss. 2

We are seeking well-written, interesting submissions of 1500-2000 words on the themes below, including summaries and/or excerpts of recently completed research, new publications, and works in progress. Submissions for the issue are due Friday, March 4, 2011. Continue reading »

Jan 31, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Shifting Tides in Egypt

The recent uprisings charging through the Middle East have, as previously mentioned, surpassed any of my wildest expectations.  Without discussing the moral value of shifting away from authoritarian rule, or even delving into the history of Mubarak’s regime, the events are striking in the way they’ve unfolded and the potential for change they possess.  However, if you’re as interested in all of this as I am, I’m sure there’s little I could say about the unfolding events that hasn’t been written by hundreds of others already.  So rather than pretend to be some kind of investigative reporter, I thought I’d discuss one of the most recent aspects of the events to take me by surprise.

Regularly these last few days writers and newscasters have expressed a measure of outrage over the US administration’s relatively tepid response to the situation in Egypt.  Indeed if one assumes the nation to be a shining beacon of democracy and freedom, our continued semi-support of an authoritarian regime might come as a surprise, but our support of the regime is absolutely nothing new.  Whether in the spheres of diplomacy, economics or security Egypt’s non-representative government has long been a supported ally of the United States.  So what surprises me as events unfold is actually how much the US has finally seemed to change its tune regarding Mubarak’s regime.

It’s relatively rare that our politics in the Middle East contrast so sharply with those of Israel, but this is definitely one of those situations.  Though Israel’s government has been rather tame in its commentary about the uprisings, media largely has not been and the state’s support is rather obviously behind Egypt’s current administration.  On the other hand, as the protests in Egypt continue to dominate the 24 hour news networks and the US continues its “democracy building” programs throughout the region, the US administration doesn’t seem to have much choice but to stand by its desires for representative rule.

US support of Egypt’s regime has long been an issue of contention in our promotion of democracy throughout the Middle East.  The current protests serve to a degree to put our previous interactions with the government under a microscope, and to spotlight the uncomfortable question of whether or not we support democracy or only political advantage.  At the same time, I do think there’s some validity to the concern over the US effectively pitching an ally under the bus.

As mentioned in my last post on the subject, I am of the mind that the best thing our government can do in this situation is largely to stay out of it.  Few things could be better for the populace of Egypt than a transition to democratic governance not created by the interference of other nations.  The current stance of the administration in voicing support of a peaceful transition of power seems like the right course of action in my book.  Egypt seems well on its way to some sort of change without the US or any other nation stepping in to force the government’s hand.

Jan 29, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

Not Business as Usual in Egypt

Talaat Moustafa Group Building (Photo copyright David Jandura)

For some reason I don’t think that firing the Egyptian cabinet is going to cut it at this point.   It’s true that the interior minister was truly hated, but we don’t know what is really going to happen to him.  Similarly, given his position within the military, sacking Defense Minister Mohamed Tantawi will probably not erase his influence over the Egyptian armed forces.   I was personally against Minster of Transport Alaa El-Deen Mohamed Fahmy, but not because of his policies – I know nothing about him – but because he replaced Mohamed Mansour, who is a fellow North Carolina State University alum.  After John Edwards’ fall from grace NC State needs all the good alum we can get.

This isn’t to say that the minsters in Egypt’s government were inconsequential; the NDP structure was bigger than a few people.  They were technocrats sure, but technocrats with policies that affected people.  It has been under the current Nazif government that Egypt has accelerated its privatization agenda, which while responsible for impressive growth over the past decade, has also left a lot of Egyptians behind.   I’m all to familiar with the young business community in Egypt.  While working there I had to stay afloat of all the recent news, which meant reading the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt’s unbearable magazine.   There were others like it, such as Business Today, which managed to paint not only a rosy picture of the Egyptian economy, but seem to believe with such conviction in the inherent flawlessness of the current regime’s pro-growth agenda.   I won’t deny that there was growth, I also won’t deny that it was sometimes impressive, but I can understand why most Egyptians would not believe such policies could ever benefit them. Continue reading »

Jan 28, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

On Recent Protests

So now and again in my Eeyore-like philosophy of always expecting the worst, I find myself truly and pleasantly surprised.  From the start, the recent protests, uprisings and overthrow of the Tunisian government struck me as a powerful moment in history and a reminder of a more aggressive approach to government accountability.  Yet as exciting as they were, the activities in Tunisia certainly didn’t strike me as any sort of catalyst for change in the region.  The developments this week in Egypt and most recently Yemen thus left me rather speechless.

Unlike some, I certainly am not expecting a sudden surge of representative governance or for democratic rule to spring forth in the wake of these uprisings, particularly in Egypt or Yemen. On the other hand, pessimist or not, it’s hard not to be inspired by the recent activities.  Like many interested in international relations, I found myself wondering just what this means for the United States and other Western democracy building interests.  Unlike many, the best thing I can think to hope for is that Western policy-makers will take care with the situation and if possible stay out of it.

A popular rising of displeasure with authoritarian government certainly doesn’t equate a sudden desire for Western intervention.  If anything we might hope for the recent uprisings to provide a model of understanding future change in the region.

Jan 28, 2011
Center for Democracy and Civil Society

What do Egyptians think of the US?

It’s a hard question to answer and I know that I can’t. Instead, dear reader, I will provide you with an anecdote to consider:

Egyptian riot police are firing tear gas canisters bearing the label “Made in U.S.A” against street demonstrations in Cairo, according to protesters who provided ABC News with pictures of the canisters…

The label urges anyone who comes in contact with the gas “to seek assistance as soon as possible.”

According to the canister labels, the tear gas is produced by Combined Systems International of Jamestown, Pennsylvania…

Egyptians who are part of the street demonstrations told ABC News that the evidence of the U.S.-made tear gas sends a powerful signal.

“The way I see it the U.S. administration supports dictators,” said Aly Eltayeb, 26, who has participated in the protests since Tuesday.

Yes, well… Hmm… You see, the thing is…of course the US supports democracy in Egypt, but, you know, even democracies need armies and police. And, obviously, mistakes were made, but you can’t hold us accountable for that, can you? There, that’s clear…isn’t it?

Founded in 2004, Democracy and Society is a biannual print journal published by the Center for Democracy and Civil Society at Georgetown University. The D&S Blog provides web-only content, including special reports and investigative series, on issues relating to democracy and development.

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