Monday,23 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)
Monday,23 October, 2017
Issue 1361, (21 - 27 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Beneath diplomacy

Eman Ragab wonders what it would take to deconstruct Egyptian stereotypes in Washington

I spent the past few days discussing the decision to cut one part of US aid to Egypt and reduce another with people who work in the American administration. The one reason they all cited was that there are prevalent impressions and stereotypes in Congress and to some extent within the administration itself about the situation in Egypt.

Impressions can of course be more effective in international relations than facts, since they can result in an even more fateful course of action on the part of one state dealing with another.

And the impressions in question have to do with the idea that Egypt’s present government does not want to open up to the international community, that it adopts policies violating rights and freedoms and deals with the young as if they were negative energy that needs to be neutralised.

It can be said that these impressions have resulted from the interaction of three factors. The first is a modest rate of progress in terms of human rights, for reasons that have to do with the complications of a transitional period. The second is the existence of forces that adopt positions inimical to Egypt for political and ideological reasons. And the third is the lack of effective communication between the various institutions of the Egyptian state and American society.

Indeed that third factor just may be the one worth discussing at home. The decision to discontinue providing aid drove many journalists to make offended statements to the effect that Egypt does not need American aid or worse, which to my mind are not very helpful under the circumstances. The real question, after all, is not whether or not Egypt needs this money but rather what Egypt’s image in the West might be in relation to this question.

My feeling is that the principal way into deconstructing the present stereotypical image is to develop a multidimensional communication strategy targeting American circles. Such a strategy would have as its principal aim not the justification of civil society and human rights policies adopted but emphasising positive achievements in such fields as economic rights and youth. (The reader may be interested in my 30 July article on this topic.) After all these positive achievements have not been made in neighbouring countries that are allied to Washington. Such countries have similar complications in the field of human rights but they have effective PR campaigns to promote them in America.

It is also important to have numerous voices address American society in the context of this strategy. Enabling competent figures who are capable of generating ideas readily understood in the US is crucial, especially since there is no shortage of such figures. The problem rather is that their abilities are not utilised in this regard.


The writer is a senior researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

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