What U.S. Politicians Can Learn from Egypt

Despite many obstacles, Egyptians are determined to establish a democracy.

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I just returned from a week in Cairo working with the political parties at a training seminar at the University of Cairo. I was joined by four colleagues who also teach at George Washington's Graduate School of Political Management and who do political consulting work here in the states and around the world. We worked with about 80 leaders and a dozen of the political parties in Egypt.

Jimmy Carter and the Carter Center were in Cairo for meetings at the same time, and New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has been writing from Egypt for the past couple of weeks. Clearly, there is plenty going on there for political junkies and journalists—and even ex-presidents.

[Read a U.S. News interview with Jimmy Carter.]

I was struck by the passion, the commitment, and the sacrifice of the participants to build their new democracy. I saw the friction, too, between the parties and the obvious battle they were engaged in to see their candidates elected.

But one thing astounded me.

After giving a lecture, I split the parties up to work on the message, slogans, brochures, and ads for a hypothetical "Freedom Through Good Paying Jobs Party." I wanted to create three groups made up of different representatives of Egypt's parties and avoid one party dominating a group.

When each of the three teams returned from their breakout groups to present their ideas they were ecstatic. "We still are the revolution," they said, "we must work together. We toppled Mubarak, we had the spirit last January 25, we can keep it alive."

[See a collection of political cartoons on the turmoil in the Middle East.]

They wanted to build their new nation together, they wanted to work with each other, to meet again as a group, to find common ground post-election. No doubt this will not be easy. There are wide differences, serious differences. Yet, they got to know one another and their commitment shone through.

It made me think—do you suppose some of us in politics in the United States could learn a little something? The goal, of course, is to make democracy work. At times last week, it occurred to me that some there might understand that a bit better than we do.

  • See photos of protests in Egypt.
  • See a slide show on the death toll of the Arab Spring.
  • Read about how women could promote their rights through Islam.