The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Dunne on Egyptian reform

A few days ago I wrote about last week's Congressional hearing on US policy towards Egypt. Although I gave links to three presentations, I omitted the most interesting one: a presentation by Michelle Dunne of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former US diplomat at the US embassy in Cairo, on Egypt's reform efforts and how it is linked to US policy. (It wasn't on the Congress site.) This is by far the most interesting presentation that was made.

The Egyptian government has shown a readiness to modernize certain institutions - for example, the judiciary - and is now allowing discussion of liberalizing aspects of political life. It has not, however, shown any intention to democratize, by which I mean giving the Egyptian people the right and ability to change their government. All of the U.S. democracy assistance programs so far, and most under contemplation, aim at modernization and liberalization, which can certainly improve people's lives but do not necessarily lead to democratic transformation. Such transformation could eventually happen when the governing elite decides that it can no longer resist strong internal pressure for change, or as a result of visionary leadership.

It's worth reading all of it, and while you're at it also take a look at her insightful article about the Crawford Bush-Mubarak meeting that took place a few months ago. Many, including myself, were surprised that Bush gave little weight to the topic of reform in the joint statement and press conference the two presidents held. I'm still not entirely convinced by her argument -- I think Bush took it easy on Mubarak because the latter was offering so much in terms of cooperation on Gaza and also hinted at helping out in Iraq.