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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Charles A. Kupchan, "Democracy in Egypt Can Wait": What Is "Responsible" Government in the Muslim Middle East?

Charles A. Kupchan, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University and a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, today, in a guest New York Times op-ed entitled "Democracy in Egypt Can Wait" (, calls for change in American policy toward the Muslim Middle East. Much of Kupchan's opinion piece makes perfect sense:

"Incremental change produces more durable results; liberal democracies must be constructed from the ground up. Constitutional constraints, judicial reform, political parties, economic privatization — these building blocks of democratic societies need time to take root.

. . . .

Moreover, transitions to democracy in the Middle East will be more perilous than those elsewhere because of factors unique to the region: the power of political Islam and the entrenched nature of sectarian and tribal loyalties."

Kupchan's conclusion:

"Washington should downsize its ambition and work with transitional governments to establish the foundations of responsible, even if not democratic, rule.

. . . .

The United States should do what it can to shepherd the arrival of liberal democracy in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East. But the best way to do that is to go slow and help the region’s states build functioning and responsible governments. Democracy can wait."

Query: What is "responsible" government in the Muslim Middle East? More specifically, to whom should government be "responsible" in Egypt?

Kupchan seems to provide an answer:

"Rather than cajoling Cairo to hold elections and threatening to suspend aid if it does not, Washington should press the current leadership to adhere to clear standards of responsible governance, including ending the violence and political repression, restoring the basic functions of the state, facilitating economic recovery, countering militant extremists and keeping the peace with Israel."

This is all good and well, but specifically what steps should be taken regarding Egypt's military, which controls more than 30 percent of Egypt's economy?

What measures need to be taken to protect Egypt's Christian Coptic minority, comprising some 10 percent of the population, whose churches are being torched by the Muslim Brotherhood (see:

What sort of responsibility is owed to Egypt's women, more than 90 percent of whom have had their clitorises removed?

Or does responsibility begin with finding jobs for Egypt's unemployed, given that its tourism industry has been devastated, and with seeking to eradicate illiteracy (some 28 percent of Egyptians cannot read)?

End the violence in Egypt peacefully? Good luck. It will be a bit like cajoling the genie back into his lamp.

But most important, before seeking "to shepherd the arrival of liberal democracy in Egypt," perhaps the US would do well to first determine the nature of "responsible" government in the Muslim Middle East.


  1. Sound, sensible and practical advice from Kupchan and from you, Jeff.

    Obama dislikes descending to the ground from his theoretical pulpit.

    Less preaching is needed. More nuts and bolts, step by step action.

  2. Oh people. Stop complicating things. I think that Obama should give another speech in Cairo. He looks pretty when he gives speeches. He might even make history, if nice and intelligent people in Oslo give him another Nobel afterwards.

    1. Good idea.
      Then he could follow that with a speech in Benghazi.