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September 10, 2008

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ebw

i can see why my request to you for egyptian blogger contacts to invite to cover icann@cairo went unanswered.

Jonathan Guyer

Excellent panel discussion today. I enjoyed the lively and productive debate. Nonetheless, I'm not sure "rule of law" issues were totally fleshed out.As your comments began with references to Oum el'Dunya's crumbling infrastructure and leadership, can we really point to the "rule of law" in Egypt today? To US policy makers Mubarak both signifies stability and a big question mark. The latter pertains to a foreseeable future without him.

Solomon2

The focus should be not primarily on elections but on ‘Bill of Rights freedoms’: our friends must respect freedom of speech, of assembly, of the press; free and fair elections; judicial independence and the rule of law;

My hackles go up when I hear people use the words "must" or "should"? Why "must" "our friends" do anything? There is a missing element here, one that Americans of all people should appreciate: we are against tyranny and tyrants. Mubarak's regime is a tyranny. If America advocated that Egypt should reform or else America would support revolution, that might have some effect. But for now, the oppressed can either shut up, emigrate, or support the MB, is that not so?

Ali

Marc,
We often talk about the U.S. backtracking on democracy promotion in the Middle East and its abandoning of reformers in the region, however, it remains unclear to me as to what precisely Egyptians would like the U.S to do to help bring democracy to their country. Quite frankly, I don’t think Egyptians themselves have a clear answer to that question.

Ask any member of the opposition whether Islamist, liberal or leftist about U.S. role and they will immediately declare their rejection of any meddling by the U.S. in Egypt’s internal affairs, even refusing any pressure on the Egyptian regime from nationalist stand point. On the other hand, when the U.S. decides not to intervene in Egypt’s domestic affairs the same opposition outcries over its [U.S.] alleged backtracking on democracy and keeping blind eye the Egyptian government practices.

The truth of the matter is that Egyptians themselves are to be blamed for the crisis their country is facing right now mainly because of their political apathy and their worship of their rulers, something Egyptians are known for since the ancient days of the Pharos. Throughout history Egyptians have never revolted against their rulers and will never do no matter how corrupt and unjust they can get. It is the exactly the same overly forgiving , laid back, unconfrontational and apathetic nature of Egyptians that stands today a major obstacle in their way to attain freedom and democracy.

In a country that 60% of its people are illiterate and more than 45% earn less than $2 per day, it is almost impossible to mobilize them for the sake of democracy or human rights- they could care less. The average Egyptian is struggling to put bread on the table for his/her children and they can be beaten day and night by their heavy handed police forces and will not move a finger in protest. They’re prone to fear the government- typical feeling for those who are living in police state.

All the voices of reform you listed- journalists, moderate Islamists, judges, liberal opposition, bloggers, constitute small portion of the patriotic and educated elite and who are unable, so far, to mobilize the masses because simply politics is not the center of their attention- they are struggling to make living.

What does the U.S. have to do with this? And why should we get involved if the people themselves prefer the status quo!

When thousands of the people of Ukraine (population of 48 millions) took to the streets in 2004 protesting against their corrupt government forcing it to resign in what became known as the “Orange revolution” they did it by themselves and did not sit around waiting for the U.S. to rescue them.

I find it hard to believe that the 2 billion dollars the U.S. gives to Egypt in aid every year is the main reason responsible for keeping the Egyptian regime in power against the will of its own people. If Egyptians rise up against government and demand change and democracy the U.S. will never object or intervene to save the regime or suppress the people.

Egyptians themselves are confused, divided and unwilling to change, so why bother!

Zathras

I would not put the matter in quite the same way Ali does upthread, but he does raise a valid issue.

Both the Bush administration and most of its liberal critics signed up years ago, at least nominally, to the absurd idea that every shortcoming of Arab political culture was America's fault. If one believes that, it is an easy logical jump to the conclusion that rectifying the "freedom deficit" and establishing democracy where it has never existed before is primarily America's responsibility. This, among other things, is one reason an American army is mucking around trying to babysit democracy in an Arab country that was a Soviet client during the Cold War.

We know from our own history, and Europe's, and Turkey's, Japan's and South Korea's that democratic forms can be imposed from outside, but democratic practices must be accepted as a free choice by the peoples involved. We also know that democracy is an extremely demanding form of government, beyond the capacity of some cultures to sustain. In light of this, does it make sense to judge American policy toward Egypt by that country's progress toward liberal democracy? Why is that a paramount objective for the United States?

The skepticism implied in these questions is intentional, but does not end the discussion. In addition to being undemocratic, the Egyptian government is also corrupt, inefficient and inclined toward somewhat arbitrary brutality; its failings are obviously breeding popular discontent. We cannot see where this will lead, and we cannot be indifferent to some of the possibilities. Moreover, there will be a change at the top of the Egyptian government within the next few years as President Mubarak nears the end of his life, which may well provide a window of opportunity for some kind of improvement. How can American policy best exercise a constructive influence on this situation?

I haven't come to any firm conclusions on this point. I will say what I say about virtually every other subject touching on government policy, that we ought to be realistic about the situation we face and about what can be achieved through our efforts, not just privately but publicly. In this case, that means if Egyptian government corruption is a concern to us, American officials should say publicly that Egyptian government corruption is of concern to us; if the Cairo government is throwing people into jail who are obviously not terrorists, American officials should be asking publicly if this is really necessary; if the Egyptian goverment cannot operate an educational system without leaving large numbers of Egyptians illiterate or otherwise unemployable in productive work, American officials should acknowledge this publicly as that government's failing.

The point is not Egyptian democracy. Questioning the legitimacy of Egypt's current government does not, in my view, belong on America's "to-do list." What I'm after is a policy that neither aspires to objectives we cannot achieve nor continues to stand mute in the face of an ally whose internal policies risk eventual upheaval serious enough to impact American interests. I'm not that concerned that periodic American badgering will be a source of irritation to Egyptian government officials; that irritation could work to our advantage in the long run, reducing the extent to which Egyptians are inclined to associate the American government with every failing of their own. Sadat's legacy was Egyptian friendship with America, and our task now is to work out what kind of friend we will be.

Solomon2

it remains unclear to me as to what precisely Egyptians would like the U.S to do...I don’t think Egyptians themselves have a clear answer to that question...they will immediately declare their rejection of any meddling by the U.S. in Egypt’s internal affairs, even refusing any pressure on the Egyptian regime...On the other hand, when the U.S. decides not to intervene in Egypt’s domestic affairs the same opposition outcries over its [U.S.] alleged backtracking...

I've experienced the same thing - and from a single Egyptian! Something is very wrong in their thinking here, and they are a blank to this. I conclude that any Egyptian who thinks sensibly about these matters is either silent, or possibly in prison.

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