Wednesday, February 6, 2013

4th of July

Sorry! This was written after July 4, 2012, but some technical trouble prevented it from getting posted. Better late than never:

Greetings, and happy 4th of July everyone. I was fortunate enough to have attended the 4th of July celebration at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. It was a great way to cap my six month stay in Cairo; I chatted with friends and other guests, and made a few contacts. I could not help but feel a certain sense of awe during the event, however. Just how does it come to pass that a group of Americans, Egyptians and diplomats and dignitaries of other nationalities unite in the singing of Sweet Caroline a few blocks from Tahrir Square?

Ambassador Anne Patterson made formal remarks partway through the event. She began her remarks with famous lines from the American Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” 

Ambassador Patterson went on to touch on some achievements of the U.S., but more importantly, she highlighted our challenges. I posted the above quotation to my Facebook this morning, and was quickly challenged by a friend who insisted we add a disclaimer that Jefferson’s words do not currently apply to minorities, women and other persecuted groups. America is not perfect. The democratic experiment is not complete; if we ever consider that experiment complete, we’d be fools. The United States was built on the precept that hard work yields a tomorrow better than the today, that continued toil by the forebears paves the way for greater achievements by successors. Whether that applies to science, economic growth, political liberty or the well-being of one’s family, that value permeates American society. This drive has almost always yielded us better tomorrows. We will always have our challenges, but Americans and our society have evolved and triumphed repeatedly when beset with perils that have destroyed other nations. It has taken 236 years for our fledgling democracy to develop into the robust system it is today. 

More importantly, Ambassador Patterson noted how long it has taken us to get this far. To a room full of Egyptian government officials, businessmen and socialites, she gave a stark truth: democracy can fail. Egypt has not yet made a full transition, and its democratic institutions may not develop into what older democracies consider adequate within our lifetimes. The important thing is that they try, and through hard work achieve a better tomorrow. The Ambassador ended her address by saying that if Egyptians were willing to confront their challenges, Americans would “roll up their sleeves” and join them in the effort. 

There are so many good things about America. That people of disparate backgrounds can find common pleasure in something like Sweet Caroline playing beneath red, white and blue banners is a testament to this fact. Yet the sand-colored, reinforced concrete barriers and legions of security guards present speak to the fact that many still cannot tolerate us. I would like to believe that with enough public diplomacy, we can solve almost any problem. Diplomacy is increasingly shifting from state-to-state interaction to people-to-people interaction. However, so long as there remain structural reasons that cause hate by making people vulnerable, like poverty, war, discrimination and persecution, then public diplomacy will only go so far. Perhaps someday, when Egypt is a full democracy and such problems are diminished, we can sing together in Tahrir rather than hiding in what Egyptians refer to as “the American Fortress.”

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