Tahrir Square in Cairo is actually a circle; a large, noisy, crowded traffic circle. As a child, I remember the stream of black-and-white taxi cabs cruising around it, seemingly going nowhere.
Egypt’s recent uprising had its genesis in Tahrir Square. But, her goals and aspirations for the future, like the cabs, may ultimately go nowhere.
While the Arab Spring revolution has been nothing less than astonishing, it has not been without challenges and roadblocks. Egypt, furthest along in its fight for reform, has its share of obstacles to overcome:
• With elections rapidly approaching, new political parties are still being formed and few have gained their footing. They lack the expertise to run a campaign.
• The Egyptian military, serving as the interim government, is dragging its feet when it comes to promoting democratic change. Military officers are among the wealthy elite. They enjoy virtually limitless powers, unchecked by any civilian government. So, the status quo suits them nicely.
• The Muslim Brotherhood, a well-organized political party, is favored by one in three Egyptians. This is a foot in the door for Islamic fundamentalism; an opportunity for a stolen election.
The big question is should America step in, and can we influence the outcome?
America needs a democratic partner in Egypt. Egyptians, for the most part, share our goals and interests. Our common values and beliefs should usher in a new era of mutual cooperation and partnership. So all we have to do is embrace Egypt and lead it to democracy. Then, we can extend our good will to Muslim countries beyond. Should be easy, right?
But, are we positioned to do that? Does America have the credibility and influence it needs?
According to the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Survey, after the uprising, unfavorable feelings toward the United States continued to grow. While 27 percent of Egyptians had a favorable opinion of America in 2009, only 20 percent still do. In fact, negative perceptions of the U.S. have grown in Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan and Lebanon.
The Muslim world’s perception of America is colored by recent history.
First, there is our invasion of Iraq. Muslim countries describe it as a bizarre display of arrogance and an overestimation of America’s own power. More broadly, they see us acting in our own self-interest, but often in conflict with our principles and values. As proof, they point to our support for tyrannical leaders, so long as they serve our needs. They recognize our failure to have a consistent policy supporting democratic reforms for all Middle Eastern countries.
In short, Muslims believe we act unilaterally in world affairs, and rarely in the interest of their countries. It is within our own interest to change that.
America must actively support and guide Muslims through their social and political transition. But we must not try to replicate our model of democracy in their countries. Instead, we should help Muslims create a democracy that is aligned with their goals and ambitions; one that respects their unique diversity and reflects their cultural realities.
It is a hopeful time for them, and for us; a precious and rare opportunity. It is a time for us not to dictate, but to lead. It is a time not to prove what we can do, but to share who we are.
Egypt’s Cairo has always been the cultural center of the Middle East. Tahrir Square is the heart of the city. Seven major traffic arteries emanate from Tahrir. And today, they carry new possibilities of freedom and democracy to places throughout the Muslim world. Americans, acting in accordance with our principles and in our own interests, should lead the change.
Dean Hosni, an underwriting professional in the insurance industry, is a member of The Olympian’s Diversity Panel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.