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January 18, 2008

Yes We Can
Posted by Shadi Hamid

Matt Yglesias writes:

I'm not sure there's very much the US government can or should do, in practice, to push Egypt into becoming a democracy.

This sentiment never fails to baffle me. This isn't exactly a contentious issue. There is - indisputably - quite a bit we "can" do to help Egypt move toward democracy (as for the "should" of it, I guess it depends if you have moral qualms with sending nearly $2 billion of aid to a dictatorship which represses, sometimes brutally, anyone who opposes it). It's not rocket science. Egypt is one of our closest allies in the region. They depend on us for economic and military support. This means we have leverage, and we shouldn't be afraid to use that leverage to push for change. For starters, this can mean making the billions we give to Egypt conditional on political reform (for more on this, see here). For more forward-thinking policymakers, we can also explore ways to show the Egyptian regime we're serious (this could include starting a dialogue with the strongest opposition group in the country - the Muslim Brotherhood. For more on that, see here). Now there is a legitimate debate about how much we can do ultimately do to change Egypt. But the basic point remains - we can at least do something.

As for the second question of whether we "should" do something, I'm pretty sure Matt and I are on the same page here (and hopefully the vast majority of liberals). Do you think that America should be bankrolling ruthless dictators oppress their own people - and not say or do anything about it? (think about this: you have unwieldy friend. He's really smart but is also a drug-dealer and has been involved in at least two murders. He helped you create an amazing website for your new business. You think you need him. So you give him $4000 over the course of the year carte blanche and you know he uses a significant portion of it for his shady activities. No, if he's really your friend, you want him to stop destroying his life and other people's lives. Secondly, you bear moral responsiblity if you have direct knowledge that your money is going toward illegal activities). This isn't rocket science. We have to stop problematizing the basic idea of democracy promotion. The how of it, of course, is difficult but we should all be in agreement that something must be done.


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There's another option -- just stop supporting dictatorships. It's hard to see how the US can claim any credibility as an agent of democracy in any one country when we're supporting dictators in another. So long as we're running a hypocritical foreign policy our efforts to promote democracy in say, Egypt will be stymied by opponents who say "look what they're doing in Pakistan" or "look what they did in Central America for 40 years."

There's another option -- just stop supporting dictatorships

There's another option -- just stop supporting dictatorships

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