What the U.S. Can Learn from the Failures of Democracy Promotion in Egypt

The administrations of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama were deeply invested in fostering democracy in the Arab world—in two radically different ways. Under the latter, argues Samuel Tadros, and at least in Egypt these efforts led nowhere. When Egyptians took to the streets in 2011, President Obama saw a hope for a transition from dictatorship to democracy: a hope that led to disastrous policy decisions. Tadros provides a trenchant analysis of American mistakes:

[Once it seemed likely that Hosni Mubarak would resign, the Obama] administration turned to history, not of Egypt but of faraway lands. As the New York Times wrote, “Obama ordered staff members to study transitions in 50 to 60 countries to find precedents for those under way in Tunisia and Egypt. They found that Egypt [was] analogous to South Korea, the Philippines, and Chile.”

The whole undertaking was remarkable. The belief that what Egypt was witnessing was a transition to democracy and not the collapse of state institutions framed the discussion from the very beginning and determined the framework of the policy that would be adopted. The suggestion that developments in the Arabic-speaking world would follow those elsewhere betrayed a mindset that did not view culture, history, or religion as relevant. . . .

Tadros suggests that rather than engaging in pipe-dreams about Egyptian democracy, the U.S. can take concrete steps to encourage the educational reform that is a prerequisite not only to democracy but even to a functioning and more benevolent dictatorship:

For the past decade, democracy-promotion efforts in the broader Middle East have focused on . . . programs devoted to civil society. . . . Despite heavy investment in civil society, as the story of the country’s struggles during the past few years illustrates, social capital did not transform into political capital. The deficit resulted from the missing first ingredient: human capital.

The state of Egyptian education is dismal, ranking among the worst in the world. The Egyptian educational system does not produce the human capital necessary for a modern state to function, nor does it prepare graduates for a modernized economy. The educational system does not encourage free inquiry; Egyptian students learn very little about the world beyond Egypt, world religions, ideas, or history. The Trump administration should partner with Egypt to reform its educational system. . . .

An unreformed Egypt is destined to be in a state of continued decline. A country divided between those who believe that President Sisi’s mother is Jewish, which makes him an agent of the grand Jewish conspiracy, and those who believe that the Muslim Brotherhood’s founder Hassan al-Banna’s father was Jewish and, hence, that he was an agent of the grand Jewish conspiracy, is not going to transition to democracy.

Read more at Hoover

More about: Arab Spring, Barack Obama, Democracy, Egypt, George W. Bush, U.S. Foreign policy

Hizballah Is Learning Israel’s Weak Spots

On Tuesday, a Hizballah drone attack injured three people in northern Israel. The next day, another attack, targeting an IDF base, injured eighteen people, six of them seriously, in Arab al-Amshe, also in the north. This second attack involved the simultaneous use of drones carrying explosives and guided antitank missiles. In both cases, the defensive systems that performed so successfully last weekend failed to stop the drones and missiles. Ron Ben-Yishai has a straightforward explanation as to why: the Lebanon-backed terrorist group is getting better at evading Israel defenses. He explains the three basis systems used to pilot these unmanned aircraft, and their practical effects:

These systems allow drones to act similarly to fighter jets, using “dead zones”—areas not visible to radar or other optical detection—to approach targets. They fly low initially, then ascend just before crashing and detonating on the target. The terrain of southern Lebanon is particularly conducive to such attacks.

But this requires skills that the terror group has honed over months of fighting against Israel. The latest attacks involved a large drone capable of carrying over 50 kg (110 lbs.) of explosives. The terrorists have likely analyzed Israel’s alert and interception systems, recognizing that shooting down their drones requires early detection to allow sufficient time for launching interceptors.

The IDF tries to detect any incoming drones on its radar, as it had done prior to the war. Despite Hizballah’s learning curve, the IDF’s technological edge offers an advantage. However, the military must recognize that any measure it takes is quickly observed and analyzed, and even the most effective defenses can be incomplete. The terrain near the Lebanon-Israel border continues to pose a challenge, necessitating technological solutions and significant financial investment.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Hizballah, Iron Dome, Israeli Security