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Democracy in Egypt: ‘It’s not up to us to direct or control’

Hosni Mubarak resigned his post as president of Egypt on Friday following nearly three weeks of public protest, sending waves of jubilation throughout the country, while the world watched with caution and worry. What happens next in the key transcontinental, predominantly Muslim nation will have geopolitical ramifications for years to come. The question here at home is, What can — and what should — the United States do as this process unfolds?

Patrice McMahon, UNL associate professor of political science, studies democratization and civil society around the world. In a recent interview, McMahon said research into such movements can offer some insights on how the United States can best support peace and stability in Egypt and across the Middle East. Specifically, there are three things that the United States can do, she said.

First, it’s time to walk away from President Mubarak. We can no longer support and fund dictators,” she said. “A step away from Mubarak is a step toward the people of Egypt and a step toward the people of the Middle East.”

Second, the United States should take its democracy-promotion rhetoric and turn it into action and economic assistance. One-third of Egyptians are under 15, and two-thirds are under 30. So the problem with this is that 90 percent of the country’s unemployed is under 30. Two-thirds of Egyptians live on less than $2 a day — while most of protesters have political ambitions, most are simply poor and frustrated.”

Third, the United States should neither exaggerate its influence in the Middle East nor should it try to direct efforts there. It’s time for the United States to reach out to its allies to help support the efforts in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.

Democracy is a difficult business, but it’s up to the people of of Egypt and the people of the Middle East to do this. We can support them in their efforts, but it’s not up to us to direct or control.”

See McMahon discuss Egypt on N The Know, UNL’s video series that sits at the intersection of faculty expertise and current events. Contact McMahon at (402)472-3235 or

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