Saturday, February 12, 2011

How to Spread Democracy in Egypt

Yesterday, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak became the second long-standing Middle Eastern ruler to be pushed from office by popular protest (the other was Tunisian President’s resignation last year). However, unlike the civil movement in Tunisia, the uprising in Egypt was fueled by peaceful demonstrations that, “gave lie to the idea that justice is best gained through violence,” Obama said. “It was the moral force of nonviolence—not terrorism, not killing—that bent the arc of justice.”

Whether democracy will be fully instituted in Egypt’s new found sense of freedom is yet unknown, yet it brings the question: Was President Bush right all along in his quest to spread democracy in the Arab world? I disagree.

Democracy still remains a key component of U.S. foreign policy, especially when it comes to the Middle Eastern region. However, unlike Bush, Obama believes the invocation of democracy should not come through undemocratic means of violence.

When we try to impose democracy, we tarnish it. During the Bush administration, Bush forcefully tried to impose American democratic ideals on the rest of the world (ie. the Iraq War). This has not served our nation well, and has only spurred greater opposition to the United States in that area of the world. Instead of trying to coerce these nations to accept democracy (like Bush), we should purse a more diplomatic, strategic, and multilateral approach (like Obama).

Whether Egypt moves toward genuine democracy or lapses back toward authoritarianism; and whether democratic ideals will eventually spread to the surrounding nations (Iran, Jordan, etc) depends on how we act in this crucial period.

When Obama took office, he decided to dial back some of the rhetoric and rebuild the United States' credibility on human rights. It was in this context that he went to Cairo on June 4, 2009, and delivered what was billed as an effort at outreach to the Muslim world:

"I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other.

America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; government that is transparent…these are not just American ideas; they are human rights.”

Compare this with Bush’s forceful rhetoric in Iraq: “Saddam Hussein and his sons must leave Iraq within 48 hours. Their refusal to do so will result in military conflict, commenced at a time of our choosing.”

Today, we have seen the success of this approach.

By making a true case for democracy, giving the Egyptian people—not the American government—power, the U.S. may now have a greater chance to truly instill democratic ideals in the Middle East.


  1. you should read this article from NPR, a very liberal source, that looks at it from a scope larger than just the Iraq war. There were many similar instances during Bush's era that were overshadowed by the war.

  2. Egypt has served as an example indeed of the importance and power of non-violence to proliferate change. However, the only flaw is that these things are very poorly planned. Yes, the military is at the helm of things, but what is the guarantee that a dictatorship will not re-surface? The U.S. has its fingers in too many plates, and Egypt does not help its agenda in any way.

    Now escalation, besides self sustaining governance, is another issue. Other repressed countries are/might rise up, but whether they will do this violently or not is another issue.

    The U.S. has to tread a very careful path in terms of world affairs, in the days to come.

  3. What Obama doesnt understand is that this region is even more unstable now. Unless the U.S. uses force and directly imposes a democratic government, this region will quickly turn back into a dictatorship.

    Obama doesnt know how to lead, and is ruining the success the Bush administration had in spreading democracy.

  4. Promote the idea, but don't enforce it. The means are as important as the end result.Yes, Iraq may be better off now than during Saddam Hussein, but at what cost:

    •4,000 American lives and 30,000 wounded [US News and World Report, 2/25/08]
    •$3 trillion in estimated costs [Washington Post, Bilmes and Stiglitz Op-Ed, 3/9/08]
    •90,000: Estimate of Iraqi civilians casualties [Iraq Body Count]
    •4.5 Million: Number of Iraqi refugees both inside and outside the country

    Not to mention that it has tarnished the U.S. image across the globe, risking our national security.

    Compare this with the U.S. response to the recent uprising in Egypt, where we have lost ZERO American lives, and far fewer civilian causalities at a much lower cost.

    With the Egyptian people at the forefront of this movement, I believe the prospect for a democratic government is more self-sustaining.

  5. Iraq and Afghanistan should definitely not be classified as "successes". The stats Ashwani posted speak for themselves.

    "Unless the U.S. uses force and directly imposes a democratic government, this region will quickly turn back into a dictatorship." This is a really ignorant comment. Please look to what Iraq and Afghanistan are like, they are nowhere close to democratic governments. Their is terrorism, widespread corruption, and economic hardship.

    The military in Egypt has kept the treaties valid, especially with Israel and is going about bettering the Egyptian people's lives in the best way. They are changing the constitution and will hold elections in due time.

    The one thing that I dislike about the Obama administration's opinion of the events that transpired is the delay in siding with the people. The United States needs to put the citizens of the country before its self interests. If the US had thrown its support behind the Egyptian people earlier, before the protests had gone for three weeks then Egyptian people would be cheering with American Flags in addition to Egyptian flags. Maybe they would even invite the US to help them in this transition period.


Do You Agree or Disagree? Why? Please leave comments.