The Struggle For Civil Society In Egypt, by the U.S. Congress
In 2014, in the aftermath of the supposed Arab Spring, the House of Representatives’ Committee on International Relations spent some time talking about the struggle for civil society in Egypt. Included in the discussion was some discussion by a non-governmental organization that received money from Congress about the perils and pitfalls of being part of an American-supported and unrecognized NGO in Egypt, with threats including forced expulsion from the country on very little notice (a problem, it should be noted, I have some empathy about), as well as threats for jail time for engaging in activity that threatens the unity of Egypt. So when we are talking about the struggle for civil society, we are not talking necessarily about the sort of civil society that would make life in Egypt tolerable for Copts, who find themselves horrifically threatened by democratic reforms that would favor Islamist parties, but rather the sort of civil society that would be tolerable for cosmopolitan political elites who wish to push representative democracy on Egypt despite the lack of cultural norms that would encourage the stability and well-being of a democratic regime, and despite the fact that our own struggling republic is less and less able to provide a fit example for the world on how democratic societies are supposed to operate well.
This particular book is a bit less than 100 pages long and it is divided into three sections that deal with various witnesses of journos and well-connected NGO’s complaining about Egypt’s political state before a sympathetic audience in Congress, the written testimony of the witnesses presented before the committee, and appendices dealing with minutes and responses to questions. In reading these statements, it is striking to see just how heavy there is an assumption that the problems of the world would be solved with more democracy, or more freedom for frequently corrupt journalists. Given the fact that few American journalist are any good at fighting corruption and defending the well-being of the people here, how are we to expect that things will go any better in foreign countries without the lengthy tradition of free institutions? Yet there is an assumption underlying the testimony of the various participants that we are a fit example for the rest of the world and that we do offer a model of republican virtue that provides for minority rights as well as a well-functioning press, without realizing that the biases of our press may actively discourage nations which value stability and order from encouraging their journalists to behave as our corrupt and wicked ones do. Alas, moral blindness appears all too frequent in political matters.