U.S. Senator Rand Paul (above) this afternoon formally proposed a moratorium on U.S. assistance to Egypt in light of the regime’s crackdown on pro-democracy NGOs.
The furor is fraying U.S.-Egyptian relations at a potentially critical time in the country’s political transition, but it has also raised the question: what do democracy promoters do?
Contrary to claims by Egypt’s investigating magistrates – and other conspiratorially-minded sources – they don’t engage in political engineering or regime change. In fact, it’s less about promoting democracy than sharing experiences, techniques and ideas which allow indigenous democratic actors and agencies develop the political institutions best suited to local needs and circumstances:
“We pass on knowledge, not money, about world experiences on political parties and on civil society and on governing,” Lorne Craner, head of the International Republican Institute, tells National Public Radio. “And we bring people in from all around the world, from central Europe, from Asia, from Latin America, from the United States, to talk about how they have formed political parties, and the mechanics of political parties and the same for nongovernmental organizations.”…….
Kenneth Wollack, president of the National Democratic Institute, says his organization works in 65 countries with employees from around the globe.
“It’s not the idea of going in and trying to impose a particular system,” he says. His group trains election monitors, teaches civic groups how to advocate their causes and helps parties develop their platforms, Wollack says.
“We work with parties across the democratic spectrum. We don’t identify ourselves with a particular ideology. We help on the process of platform development. We can do focus groups or polling and help parties better understand citizens’ needs,” he says………..
Thomas Carothers of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says the U.S. had been on the side of dictatorship in Egypt for 30 years, so the uprising there offered a chance to turn a page.
“Suddenly, you know, the lid was off politically and there was a scramble of dozens of political parties forming,” he says. “That’s a common pattern in newly democratizing countries. All these people are eager, they want to be part of the new political scene. But the truth is, they don’t know a lot about grass-roots organizing, mobilizing volunteer groups, how to do effective messaging [or] how to build a party platform.”
Carothers says he has found that people show up for seminars even if they are suspicious about overall American foreign policy. He was taken aback by the legal proceedings in Egypt and worries that Russia or other countries leery about international democracy promoters will be watching closely to see how far Egypt goes.
Listen to the full story here.