By EMILY SCHNACKY
Journalist Kristen Chick, Cairo Christian Science Monitor correspondent, spoke about democracy promotion in the Middle East Wednesday evening in the UMD library rotunda. She graduated from the University of Alabama with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She covered the war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 and has also worked as a reporter for The Washington Times in Washington, D.C. She was a Fulbright scholar to Egypt and speaks Arabic. Chick has just returned to the United States from a trip to Egypt. During her presentation Wednesday she explored the effects of both administrations' approaches to democracy promotion in the Middle East.
Her insight into the reform and issues taking place in Egypt today was fascinating. I learned so many things I never would have known before because Egypt seems to be on the more quiet side of issues at the moment in the US mainly because the Obama administration is consumed in other issues. Because of this we do not hear much about Egypt in the media. The main point of discussion was whether or not there should be democracy promotion in the Middle East. She addressed the fact that the United States must choose between strategic alliances in the region and promotion of democracy and the effects of not getting involved in democracy promotion in fear of Islamist movements.
The history of democratic promotion in the Middle East does not date back very far. It dates back to when Egypt signed a peace agreement with Israel. After the events that took place on 9/11 the Bush administration had freedom forward agenda. The Bush administration changed that dynamic when it began pressuring Egypt to enact democratic reform in 2004-2005, before abandoning that approach in 2006. There was an obvious fall in 2005 in democracy pressure from the United States to Egypt. Still today, the Obama administration has not made democratic reform a visible priority in Egypt or in other surrounding regions. He has not pressured Egypt in public statements and democratic reform is about number four on his list of things he would like to accomplish. Chick explained that Obama is more focused on Israeli and Palestinian peace talks than democratic reform at the moment. This lack of importance placed on democratic reform in Egypt placed by the Obama administration is different than what many were expecting Obama to do when he was elected. During his candidacy he placed high expectations of hope and change, and now that there has not been much change many people are disappointed with Obama and his administration.
Many people however feel that the Egyptian government must put faith in their own people and it is that they are beginning to do. In 2005 Egypt held a presidential election for the first time. Also, in 2007, 34 articles were amended in the Egyptian constitution. Chick explained that democratic reform is not popular among Egyptians themselves. She went on to explain that in her opinion issues surrounding human rights would be a good area of interest for the United States to place on Egypt. In fact, there is a long list of freedoms that Egyptians want and do not yet have. Egyptians fear going to government officials for help because they get tortured at police stations and arrested and detained for freedom of expression. Also, there is no judicial supervision in voting in Egypt. More than 100 candidates for president of Egypt were arrested and detained. Issues like this are very widespread throughout Egypt Chick said even though she spent her time focusing on Cairo and Alexandria where she spent most of her time while in Egypt.
There are major arguments for and against democratic reform in the Middle East, especially in Egypt. There are risks for the United States that comes with democracy promotion in the Middle East; Chick believes that the benefits outweigh the risks. Pushing for political reform by opening up the political process would benefit the Muslim brotherhood. This would empower groups that would be more palatable to the United States. In fact, in the 2005 Egyptian elections many people wanted to vote against the major party. Egypt has several weak opposition groups. One of the rules to be president of Egypt is that you must have been the head of a party for over a year to legally be a candidate. Chick explained that it is possible that we could see a relatively unknown person come to power in Egypt whom may not be affiliated with the military, which would be a first for the Egyptian government. It is clear that if democratic reform does happen in Egypt some actions would be drastic. "The Egyptian government needs support for human rights and free elections along with cooperation and incentives for an active reform," Chick said. Overall, I found her presentation on democratic reform in the Middle East interesting. The fact that she is a journalist and that I could be doing something similar to her in my own personal career made her presentation that much more fascinating.