Balance of Statecraft and Streetcraft

by John Rendon on February 17, 2011


The events of the past month in Egypt have been extraordinary.

When I first began working in the Arab world over 20 years ago, some colleagues who have become life-long friends helped me understand what they said was an old Arab proverb: Books are written in Egypt, printed in Lebanon, and read in Iraq.

In today’s hyper-dynamic multimedia reality, the sentiment that Egypt is the intellectual and creative soul of the Arab world translates to television and cinema. Arab soap operas, viewed across the region for the past two decades, have helped set the conditions to ignite additional actions. Cairo’s streets are already in the homes of Arab viewers through these soap operas, but they are no longer the sole province of entertainment programs.  Those same familiar streets are where Egypt’s revolution played out — now symbols of hope and change and the power of collective action.

While the pro-democracy protests started in Tunisia, it is important to note that Tunisia is not Egypt.  Both share the history of authoritarian regimes with episodic illusions of democracy. But Egypt has always had the distinction of being a trendsetter across countries and cultures, a point not lost on other Arab leaders who are seeking means to re-establish stability in Egypt’s wake.

Looking forward, much has been said, asked and expected from the U.S. Government. For our senior officials, this requires a delicate balance of statecraft and streetcraft. It is about dialogue, not monologue; community, not control.  The USG must move to increase — by orders of magnitude — the people-to-people initiatives that have been the foundation of freedom in the United States and a beacon of hope throughout the world. Recognizing, we have much to learn from each other, strong and enduring relationship between the people of Egypt and the people of the United States are essential. It is in the vital interest of the United States, that we get to the “street” before outside malevolent forces do. And we should use our greatest and most enduring asset, the people of the United States, to do it.

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