U.S. Democracy Promotion in Egypt: a Critique of USAID
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The Egyptian Revolution of 2011 was an internal movement fueled by the conviction that change was necessary and could not happen within the existing government system. Although it is not yet clear how much democratic and developmental progress will result from the sudden regime change, international optimism abounds that the Egyptian people will achieve greater freedom. While it is clear that the Egyptian people took their destiny in their own hands, it is less clear what role, if any, other international actors played in this revolution. This presentation will investigate the role of the U.S. democracy promotion in Egypt's political system in the final years of Mubarak's regime by focusing on the USAID Office of Democracy and Governance as the main vehicle for democracy assistance. In the last decade, the U.S. increased democracy promotion in Egypt, but democracy ratings stagnated. Every country presents different constraints and requires a unique approach to democracy promotion. In Egypt constraints included bureaucracy within USAID, obstruction by the Egyptian government, and public antagonism to U.S. engagement. In addition, the U.S.'s strategic economic and security interests in Egypt contradicted democracy promotion. In response to these constraints, USAID's Office of Democracy and Governance was designed to foster limited democratic change from within the authoritarian government. USAID Democracy and Governance programs were not intended to cause or facilitate a popular movement. The actions carried out by USAID were limited, symbolic, and ultimately, reinforced the legitimacy of Mubarak's regime. Ignoring the actual demands of the people and the conditions for change necessary for democratic progress in Egypt served neither moral nor practical interests and undermined the foundations of U.S. democracy promotion.