Time for Democracy Promotion in Egypt

February 11, 2011

Beware of “democracy promotion.” With the crowds celebrating ecstatically in Tahrir Square, America’s State Department is swinging into action to guard against radicalism. As Time reports, “To avoid a continuation of dictatorial rule under a new strong man or a dangerous power vacuum as weaker players try to seize control, Egypt will need to see the lightning-fast development of long-suppressed political parties. So the US is preparing a new package of assistance to Egyptian opposition groups designed to help with constitutional reform, democratic development and election organizing.”

While propelled from within Egyptian society, with a stimulus from the success of Tunisian protesters, Egypt’s revolution is being seen by commentators as an opportunity for the United States to recalibrate its “public diplomacy” strategies and to counter the perceived rise of China as “patron” for governments in impoverished countries. As Mark Lagon of the Council for Foreign Relations puts it, “Cairo’s protests could embolden…liberal convictions, and may yet prove the “Beijing Consensus” a moment rather than an epoch.” Those “liberal convictions” which allegedly involved the sincere pursuit of “democracy promotion” strategiess after the Cold War, have apparently waned since the onset of the financial crisis, leaving America’s global image in need of some polish.

No matter that the American stance over Egypt has been vacillating at best, and continuing to support Mubarak’s regime at worst. Only very recently has Barack Obama come to voice support for the protesters, rather than calling for an “orderly transition” under the tutelage of Omar Suleiman and the military. Now, Egyptians are to receive substantial direction in the meaning of liberal democracy, and this is one terrain upon which the revolution will have to fight. Are Egyptians to formulate political-economic solutions to their problems themselves, or are elite institutions to be groomed that can manage democratic change?

However, the turn towards “democracy promotion” is a further sign that Washington has lost control over its client state. The rise of real democracy in Egypt has led to the mobilization of America’s not insubstantial reservoir of “soft power” weapons, such as the National Endowment for Democracy [sic], the International Republican Institute and Radio Free Europe, not to mention the State Department and CIA.

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One Response to “Time for Democracy Promotion in Egypt”

  1. Watsonlow Says:

    In Tahrir Square people had a very clear objective, which was to depose Mubarak. It was unambiguous and tangible, and it worked. But all they achieved was precisely that. Mubarak is gone so now they will celebrate briefly until the next bully boy emerges financed by the United States or China. In truth the most useful thing the American government can do to help the Egyptian people is to stop financing the military.


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