The Egyptian Transition in Context

Public Affairs, 212-854-2650, [email protected]
New York, March 11, 2011—Michael Doyle, Harold Brown Professor of International Affairs, Law, and Political Science, moderated a panel discussion on democracy and Middle Eastern politics, including Egypt's uprising. The event, "The Egyptian Transition in Context," was organized as part of Columbia University's Committee on Global Thought, which explores global modernity from an innovative, interdisciplinary perspective.

Panelists at the March 8 event compared and contrasted the situation in Egypt to the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989, the transition from military rule to democracy in Indonesia and the "color revolutions" in parts of the former Soviet Union over the past decade.

Doyle, a world-renowned expert on democracy and a former assistant secretary-general at the United Nations, noted that there was much to learn from considering the revolt in Egypt in the light of the transitions—some successful, some failed—that have been attempted elsewhere in the Islamic world and elsewhere from authoritarian rule to democracy.

Panelists included: Mona El-Ghobashy, Assistant Professor Comparative Politics, Barnard College; Timothy Frye, Marshall D. Shulman Professor of Post-Soviet Foreign Policy, Columbia University; Mirjam Künkler, Assistant Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University; and, Alfred C. Stepan, Wallace S. Sayre Professor of Government and former dean of Columbia University’s School of International Public Affairs (SIPA).

Stephan noted that Egypt's political upheaval is extraordinarily significant because no Arab country is currently considered a democracy. "What we've just witnessed is one of the most amazing civil society actions I've ever seen," he said.

They all agreed that Egypt has some of the factors conducive toward successful democratization—a strong national identity— and lacks others.  It doesn’t have a large middle class and it has suffered long military rule.  The key question then is:  Can good strategies and enthusiastic civil society movements tilt the balance toward sustainable democracy.  

The discussion was co-sponsored by The Center for The Study of Democracy, Toleration and Religion.
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