The failure of the Western Democracy model in the Arab world

by Andrea Tucci

US President Joe Biden has talked a lot about democracy versus autocracy in his first days in office. The Russian invasion of Ukraine was an opportunity to convey the message of this new geopolitical challenge to be overcome even if the third democratic summit in Seoul was drowned in the fog of war between Israel and Hamas, in fact while the United States repeatedly blocked attempts at a permanent ceasefire, China appeals to the Global South recognizing the Palestinian right to armed resistance at the International Court of Justice. Letting the conflict drag on will continue to discredit the United States, enhance the standing of China and Russia, and undermine the prospects for democracy globally. Current events in Egypt, a historic strategic partner of the United States, show the consequences of this inaction.
An initial commitment to democracy in the Middle East came from then President George W. Bush. In 2005.
Barack Obama’s speech at Cairo University in 2009 was a rare moment when an American president visiting an Arab country was warmly welcomed and The peak of alignment with American demands for democracy occurred during the Arab Spring of 2011, when young people in Tahrir Square rallied to overthrow Mubarak with Obama’s support.
Today, on the contrary, Sisi’s regime has been characterized by a repression of dissent, those who align themselves with Western values of human rights and democracy are labeled as traitors.
The United States has been the subject of constant attacks by the Egyptian media “sponsored” by the government and this propaganda has helped to discredit the Western model of democracy.

The Egyptian media today adopts a Chinese propaganda narrative, organizes bilateral leadership programs with the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and enables Chinese expansion in the telecommunications sector and cyberspace, supporting China as a model of autocratic economic development.

Enclaves of activists and civil society leaders in Egypt and abroad have continued to challenge the Sisi regime, primarily through social media, and to support all those oppressed and imprisoned by him. Biden’s new administration immediately offered a show of support, by highlighting human rights violations in State Department reports. In 2022 first and then during COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, in order to improve its image in response to increasing pressure from the United States, Egypt released a considerable number of political prisoners, adopted a national human rights strategy and established a dialogue between the regime and the opposition figures remaining in Egypt. The results of these concessions have been minimal and the strategy on human rights and dialogue have beenjust for “window-dressing measures” However, all these events occurred after the new US Secretary of State Antony Blinken had openly criticized the arrest of staff members of the “Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights” (EIPR) and as a result Biden had immediately excluded Egypt from the summits on democracy.

Photo: Patrick George Zaki, detained for 20 months in an Egyptian prison accused of inciting violence and terrorism

Egyptian activists understood that any victory, however limited, could only come through US support, but the war in Gaza severely undermined this premise.

The Biden administration’s support for Israel and repeated American vetoes used in the UN Security Council to prevent a permanent ceasefire have reduced US popularity in Egypt to 9%, compared to China’s 46%, (source: Washington Institute for Near East Policy).
The acute increase in anti-American sentiment is not the only result of what the Egyptian and Arab public perceives but more alarming is the prevalence of distrust in the Western model of democracy and human rights, increasingly perceived as simple rhetorical tools used by United States when “Some” human rights align with US interests. As if to say that the life of Palestinians is worth less than that of “Others”.
Europe, which once supported democracy and human rights in Egypt and which urged EU member states to support a monitoring and reporting mechanism on serious human rights violations in Egypt. Nowadays, once the war in Gaza began, European Commission, President Ursula Von Der Leyen pledged to support Sisi through financial aid packages to mitigate the expected influx of refugees from Gaza and to prevent new waves of migration to Europe.
In contrast, supporters of Arab democracy and human rights have completely distanced themselves from the Western position of support for Israel and have remained firmly in solidarity with the Palestinians.
As a result, human rights organizations not only risk the support of their Western partners, but have become even more isolated in their struggle under repressive regimes.
For example, Germany recently refused funding for the anti-trafficking program of the For Egyptian Women’s Legal Assistance (CEWLA), as punishment for signing a statement calling for an end to the war in Gaza.
The only winners from the weakening of civil rights organizations are authoritarian governments.
China and Russia immediately took advantage of these developments, in fact their official positions in the UN Security Council are in support of the ceasefire. This has in fact significantly improved their image among Arab public opinion, as found by the Washington Institute survey.
To date, “The China account” in Arabic, on the X platform, spreads pro-Chinese and anti-Western propaganda in Arabic to more than 580,000 followers.

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