A number of American politicians have suggested that the Arab Spring was a disaster and that the region needs strongmen to stabilize it, but while working on Middle East policy at the State Department, Lauren Kosa saw just how destabilizing dictators in the region are.
I worked on Egypt and human rights as a human rights-focused country desk officer from 2010 to 2012. There, I saw the brutal tactics of President Hosni Mubarak’s government destabilize the country, she writes for The Washington Post:
On the desk, I watched Mubarak’s government undermine and dismantle the very institutions that could have paved the way to a more stable and peaceful country. By restricting which new political parties could be established, controlling what they could say and engaging in election fraud, it prevented Egypt’s political opposition parties from gaining experience. And by attempting to control the activities and funding of organizations such as the National Democratic Institute, International Republican Institute and the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, it diminished Egyptians’ access to important political training in democratic processes.
At times, it resorted to a more direct approach. I met with liberal Egyptian activists who were arrested for their political beliefs, journalists who were jailed for their writing and others who had suffered violence at the hands of Egypt’s security forces. Most genuinely wanted to improve their government and help build bridges between their government and its people. They could have been partners for helping their government to address grievances, but too often they were met with harassment or worse.
These are the people and groups that would have helped prepare Egypt for a rigorous electoral process. Egypt’s talented opposition candidates, if given the opportunity to practice, could have waged stronger campaigns. Its civil society, if given the chance to flourish, could have paved the way to more issue-based politics. But they never had the opportunity to practice, Kosa adds:
It is no secret that the Middle East is aflame and that terrorism constitutes a real threat in Egypt and throughout the region. But the most formidable enemy is created the moment we stop holding governments accountable to their peoples’ highest values. The best way to win is to nourish the small democratic movements and encourage states in which their citizens believe they truly have a stake and a future.
NDI and IRI are core institutes of the National Endowment for Democracy.