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

June 16 2017

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

Syria’s Druze Uprising, and What It Means for the Region

When the Arab Spring came to Syria in 2011, the Druze for the most part remained loyal to the regime—which has generally depended on the support of religious minorities such as the Druze and thus afforded them a modicum of protection. But in the past several weeks that has changed, with sustained anti-government protests in the Druze-dominated southwestern province of Suwayda. Ehud Yaari evaluates the implications of this shift:

The disillusionment of the Druze with Bashar al-Assad, their suspicion of militias backed by Iran and Hizballah on the outskirts of their region, and growing economic hardships are fanning the flames of revolt. In Syrian Druze circles, there is now open discussion of “self-rule,” for example replacing government offices and services with local Druze alternative bodies.

Is there a politically acceptable way to assist the Druze and prevent the regime from the violent reoccupation of Jebel al-Druze, [as they call the area in which they live]? The answer is yes. It would require Jordan to open a short humanitarian corridor through the village of al-Anat, the southernmost point of the Druze community, less than three kilometers from the Syrian-Jordanian border.

Setting up a corridor to the Druze would require a broad consensus among Western and Gulf Arab states, which have currently suspended the process of normalization with Assad. . . . The cost of such an operation would not be high compared to the humanitarian corridors currently operating in northern Syria. It could be developed in stages, and perhaps ultimately include, if necessary, providing the Druze with weapons to defend their territory. A quick reminder: during the Islamic State attack on Suwayda province in 2018, the Druze demonstrated an ability to assemble close to 50,000 militia men almost overnight.

Read more at Jerusalem Strategic Tribune

More about: Druze, Iran, Israeli Security, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy