CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Two years ago, Mohamed Mostafa joined scores of Egyptians on the streets of Cairo to appeal for democracy and freedom. He peacefully pursued a more righteous form of government. Since Egypt’s democratic wish was answered, Mostafa has watched his country develop. This week, he finds himself in Charlotte, N.C., to catch a glimpse of a veteran democracy in action.
I met Mostafa at the Bloomberg News (read: free food) reception at the Democratic National Convention. Every election year, a group of 20 students get a chance to travel to either the Democratic or Republican National Conventions for a class that analyzes the presidential race in real time.
There are plenty of reasons to love the conventions — ranging from the free swag to opportunities to gawk at famous politicians and media pundits — but the reason that stands out the most is the opportunity to meet people like Mostafa.
Mostafa is one of five journalists and activists that traveled from Egypt to attend this year’s convention. American democracy has always been an inspiration for Mostafa. He believes that the United States has provided a paradigm of freedom and democracy — a map that can lead the politically oppressed out from a shadow of tyranny.
He attests that the Muslim Brotherhood gained power in a fair and democratic way, but did so by emulating American political strategy. In contrast to the other parties vying for Egypt’s executive branch, the Muslim Brotherhood had strong infrastructure and a history of organizing. This enabled them to use the same messaging and get-out-the-vote techniques that Mostafa has witnessed this week in the United States.
Mostafa’s story made me realize just how important the perception of America abroad is. The United States can and will spend billions in defense and diplomacy, but one of the most powerful influences, at least on Mohamed, is the way the United States operates at home.
But while our government inspires freedom, our politics can inspire vain pursuits of power. As illustrated in races up and down the ballot this election, where many votes have been won via appeals rooted in fear and emotion, American politics is not necessarily something to be proud of.
From the sands of Sudan to the streets of Egypt, thousands upon thousands of oppressed individuals have been empowered as voters, constituents and democrats. They have been inspired, in part, by the great American democracy.
But what they don’t see are our democratic failures, in states like Pennsylvania, where strict voter ID laws have suppressed political participation. This election will be the first with voter ID laws that push voting rights back by decades. As state governments hinder voters, our campaigns and politics turn them off by trading in substance for 30-second attack ads.
We can only hope that the new democracies around the world can have a thicker brand of politics than we do — a government that always protects the rights of people to vote and a politics that appeals to a voter’s rationality rather than his vanity. In the meantime, let us hope that these fledgling democracies take note of our missteps.
Nevertheless, here is Mostafa. A man who has traveled all over the world, has peacefully protested for his own freedom and is finally here in the United States — the place that inspired him and his compatriots to demand more from their government.
Mostafa is here to see the best, most substantive parts of American democracy. At the Democratic National Convention, the party has convened to write its platform for the next four years. During the day, panels will discuss the issues facing this nation and the best approach to tackling them. In the evenings, American leaders will discuss how to look at the past and the best way to engage the future. If there ever was a part of American democracy that a newly enfranchised democrat should see, this is it.
Adam Silver is a College junior and masters of public administration candidate from Scottsdale, Ariz. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Silver Lining” appears every Wednesday.
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