Democratic Autocrats?

It seems to me that more than three years of political and social upheaval, the forced removal of two presidents (Mubarak and Morsi), thousands of deaths, and continued blatant violations of human rights have done nothing to change the Obama administration’s perception of Egyptian politics.

During the early stage of the 2011 uprising, after violent clashes between demonstrators and Egyptian security forces had left hundreds injured and dozens dead, US President Obama said:

“The United States will continue to stand up for the rights of the Egyptian people and work with their government in pursuit of a future that is more just, more free, and more hopeful.”

Mohammed ElBaradei, a former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency and a prominent Egyptian opposition figure, replied that “the American government cannot ask the Egyptian people to believe that a dictator who has been in power for 30 years will be the one to implement democracy.”

The other day, despite the recent release of a Human Rights Watch report suggesting that senior Egyptian officials, including Egypt’s current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, were implicated in what the report deemed the “widespread and systematic” killings of peaceful protesters, the US State Department reaffirmed that the Obama administration still believes that President el-Sisi is leading a democratic transition in Egypt.

Apparently, contrary to what ElBaradei and the Egyptian people have understood too well – that is that leaders who disregards human rights and democratic principles cannot be expected to lead democratic transitions – the US administration still clings to the hope that such transitions could actually occur and could even serve the US national interest.

On this last point I suggest to read this article by Michelle Dunne on “Egypt, Counterterrorism, and the Politics of Alienation”




  1. Romy

    To answer the titled question, the answer is NO. I have just written a long comment on social and political morality. In order to advance in any given society, there should be great respect given to transparency, the movements for peace and moral decision making.
    Without a political conscience, there is nothing.


  2. eugeniolilli

    Hi Romy,

    indeed I believe transparency is an essential part of any sound democracy. If you have read one of my previous post on the blog- – I argue something similar with regard to post-Mubarak Egypt.

    I think the West is just deluding itself when it believes or pretends to believe that local autocrats will be really willing to implement meaningful reforms toward real democracy.


  3. Charles

    Broadly speaking, it might not be an intuitive jump to believe leaders who disregard widely accepted human rights and democratic principles can lead democratic transitions. However, every case is unique, it would surely be poor politics and poor strategy not to consider the possibility of this scenario? Perhaps apartheid South Africa’s relatively smooth transition to a multi-cultural democracy was in part played by the very leaders who oversaw human rights abuses?

    On the specific example of Egypt I would respectfully suggest that what the U.S. publicly states might not represent it’s true intentions or beliefs? – but this is politics is it not? Does the Obama administration still believes that President el-Sisi is leading a democratic transition in Egypt or is this internal (or international) U.S. public relations, politicking?

    Might it be more useful to identify U.S. strategic interests and then try to align either U.S. actions and/or rhetoric?


  4. eugeniolilli

    Very good points Charles.
    With regard to the last one in particular, “Might it be more useful to identify U.S. strategic interests and then try to align either U.S. actions and/or rhetoric?” my personal opinion is that US strategic interests guide US policy toward Egypt with US ideal interests being only an afterthought. Put in other words, as long as Egyptian leaders are committed to protect US strategic interests in the region, especially the 1979 peace treaty with Israel, then US officials will be not very “picky” about the Egyptian government’s democratic and human rights record.


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