Pushing the Pharaoh to Protect Human Rights: U.S. Democracy Promotion under the Obama Administration

26 Pages Posted: 19 Jul 2010 Last revised: 11 Sep 2010

Date Written: 2010


On June 4th 2009, President Obama gave a speech at Cairo University that sought to improve America’s fractured relations with the Muslim world. While discussing contentious issues including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s nuclear development and women’s rights - including the right to wear the hijab - Obama also addressed the controversial topic of democracy. He expressed his commitment “to governments that reflect the will of the people.” He went on to spell out some aspects necessary for a meaningful democracy:

“So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: you must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make a true democracy.”

If any Egyptian official listening to the speech felt anxious over fears of impending American pressure on democracy in Egypt, they need not worry. For the most part the Obama Administration’s first year in office was marked by an absence of pressure on the Mubarak government for political reform. The Obama Administration has put the promotion of democracy and many first generation rights on the backburner in its dealings with Egypt in order to maintain friendly relations with the Mubarak regime.

Activists in the human rights community have criticized the Obama Administration for its unwillingness to pressure President Mubarak on democracy and first generation human rights. This paper examines the Obama Administration’s approach to democracy promotion in Egypt. After a brief discussion of the motivation for promoting democracy, this essay compares the Obama Administration to its predecessor and analyzes the changes that have occurred over the last few years. Furthermore it explores the currentpolitical situation to see if domestic opportunities will contribute to a democratic opening in Egypt. Ultimately this paper examines what policies are most conducive for promoting democracy in Egypt.

Suggested Citation

Rieffer-Flanagan, Barbara Ann J., Pushing the Pharaoh to Protect Human Rights: U.S. Democracy Promotion under the Obama Administration (2010). APSA 2010 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1642995

Barbara Ann J. Rieffer-Flanagan (Contact Author)

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