El Pomar Foundation recently partnered with the American Council of Young Political Leaders to assist with the D.C.-based nonprofit's Election Exchange program. The program will bring 50 young elected leaders, activists, policy experts, and grassroots organizers together for an in-depth look at the American electoral process.
Two El Pomar fellows, Ben Jourdan and Sabrina Ragaller, are currently living in Washington D.C.assisting ACYPL with preparations. Over the course of their visit, we will post periodic updates on their experience living, working, and learning in our nation's capital.
One of the best parts about working in Washington, D.C. has been the ability to capitalize on the concentrated cache of knowledge, expertise, and experience in this city. Recently, Ben Jourdan and I visited The Brookings Institution for a free panel discussion dedicated to the "Arab Awakening." The three featured experts were asked to determine the Arab Spring’s importance in the 2012 U.S. elections. A few months ago, the consensus would have been easier – it wasn’t. Now, with an American ambassador dead, and fiery protests erupting across the Middle East, Ben and I sat in a crowded briefing room filled with unexpected gravity.
Unsurprisingly, a common theme during the panel was the difficulty of diplomacy. The world is unpredictable, and a regime can be toppled and replaced in a matter of days. There is no easy way to determine what the U.S. role should be in promoting peace and democracy. Raj M. Desai, Senior Fellow at Brookings, argued that our very definition of democracy differs from that of the citizens in the Middle East. For many, the greatest value of democracy is not necessarily the guarantee of civil liberties, as Americans would assume, but rather the promise of a stable economy, equality of opportunity, and reliable delivery of services. Whether protection of civil of rights precedes stability or vice versa is still up for debate.
Theoretical and moral arguments aside, all the panelists agreed that no matter how favorably the U.S. is viewed in the Middle East at any given time, democratic movements always look to the U.S. in times of strife and turmoil.
It is with that thought in mind that I anticipate ACYPL’s (American Council of Young Political Leaders) upcoming election exchange program. Over 60 foreign delegates will gather in the United States to witness our elections process. I personally will be escorting a group of university students from Egypt – an opportunity that couldn’t possibly seem more timely or important.