NDN Blog

Upcoming Event: Social Media's Impact in Latin America

In a couple weeks, Global Mobile and NDN/NPI's Latin America Policy Initiative will be co-hosting an event with SAIS looking at the impact of social media, mobile phones, and other new network technologies in Latin America. Back in January, I published a report looking specifically at Mexican civil society, how those groups and individuals had adopted new technologies into their work, and how they could do better. This event will be an expansion on that, and you'll get to hear from people much wiser and more knowledgable than I.

Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy Judith McHale will give a keynote on how State's public diplomacy efforts in Latin America have evolved with changing tools.  Her speech...

[W]ill address how the State Department is advancing U.S. foreign policy in Latin America through increased engagement, including constructive and meaningful people-to-people exchanges, local and regional media outreach and the use of multiple social platforms to establish direct relationships across the region.

And she'll be doing a long Q&A, taking questions both from the audience and online.  Following her talk I'll be moderating what I expect to be a really interesting discussion with a few people working at the intersection of new technology, politics and civil society in different Latin American countries.  Panelists will include...

Chris Sabatini is senior director of policy at the Americas Society and Council of the Americas (AS/COA) and founder/editor-in-chief of Americas Quarterly. In a recent column at the Huffington Post, Sabatini explained how the U.S. embargo on export of ICTs to Cuba has, if anything, prevented any chance of an Egypt-style uprising there. He'll be elaborating on this issue and speaking about the potential impact of internet access in Cuba.

Carlos Ponce is a Reagan Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy and the general coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy, a network of over 210 leading civil society organizations across the Americas. In his native Venezuela, Dr. Ponce successfully founded and led the Justice and Development Consortium—an NGO that develops justice-reform and conflict-resolution programs at the local level—and worked as executive secretary of Venezuela’s National Human Rights Commission.

Oscar Salazar is a social entrepreneur in the technology space and a political activist. He is currently the CEO of Citivox, a platform to enhance citizen-government communication and improve quality of life in communities in his native Mexico. Salazar is also co-founder of Cuidemos el Voto, a web- and mobile-based tool to improve election monitoring and protect voters’ rights.

It promises to be a fascinating discussion, and I hope you'll be able to come.  Space is very limited, though, so please RSVP soon.  If you can't make it, we'll be webcasting the whole event live.  Here are the details:

Tuesday, March 29, 12 pm - 2 pm 
SAIS Rome Auditorium, 1619 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC
RSVP  |  Watch Webcast

Clinton: "We Are In an Information War"

Secretary of State Clinton sat before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday to talk budget issues, and made quite a splash with her remarks on what she referred to as the "global information war" that the United States is presently losing. As she characterized it, American propaganda efforts to win hearts and change minds around the world have waned since the fall of the Berlin Wall, while competitors-- in China, Russia, even Al Jazeera-- have succeeded in their own resurgent efforts to propagandize.

In perhaps the most colorful moment of her remarks, responding to a question from Senator Lugar about the role of the internet and new media in the Middle East, Secretary Clinton laid it out this way: 

We are in an information war, and we are losing that war. I'll be very blunt in my assessment. Al Jazeera is winning. The Chinese have opened a global English language and multi-language television network. The Russians have opened up an English-language network...

She applauded the efforts of the Broadcast Board of Governors to rebuild under the leadership of Walter Isaacson and mentioned some of State's own work with new media, including their brand new Arabic and Farsi Twitter feeds. But she reminded the Committee that most of the world still gets their news from TV and radio. To that effect, Secretary Clinton had a lot of good to say about Al Jazeera:

Viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States because it's real news... You may not agree with it, but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and, you know, arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners.

Meanwhile, Clinton was very agressive in describing the nature of our information war with China:

"We are a competition for influence with China. Let's put aside the humanitarian, do-good side of what we believe in. Let's just talk straight realpolitik. We are in competition with China."

There's a lot in her testimony-- the full two hours 40 minutes of which you can listen to here-- and the idea of an information war is an interesting one.  Hopefully it will reinvigorate the Broadcasting Board of Governors and help remind Congress of the importance of State's efforts at public diplomacy.  The juiciest few minutes from her talk (quoted above) is here:


Invite: March 1, NYC - Great Panel Looks at a "A New Global Politics"

We've got a pretty cool event coming up in a couple weeks further exploring our idea that the world is witnessing the birth of a "new politics," spurred by changing demographics and evolving technology. The conversation will include Simon, Jose Vargas of the Huffington Post, and Oscar Salazar, a Mexican tech entrepreneur and activist. We'll be hosting it over breakfast at the Harvard Club in New York. Intrigued? Here's the pitch:  

More than half the world's population is under the age of 30, and these young people are increasingly wired together with new technologies - mobile phones, social media, satellite television - creating an unprecedented global community among the generation that will determine the direction of the world in the 21st century. In recent weeks, we have watched tech-savvy youth lead protests throughout the Middle East and North Africa, seeking the open, democratic future they've been able to see and imagine as globally connected citizens. Meanwhile, here in the U.S., we are engaging in a debate about our country's future using new tools and technologies, crafting fresh ideas and solutions to address the evolving challenges we face as a nation.

If you'd like to come, you should RSVP, ASAP.  The deets:

A New Global Politics

Tuesday, March 1st
Harvard Club NY: 35 W 44th St, New York
Breakfast will be served beginning at 8am, conversation will start at 8:15
Please RSVP

State's Approach to Internet Freedom

As I wrote last week, "OMG Twitter Revolution!" has been one of the major narratives-- if not THE major narrative-- in the American media since the popular revolts Tunisia and Egypt. As I also wrote, while social media, mobile phones, and the internet undoubtably played a role in helping civil society in those countries coalesce around ideas and bring people into the streets, it's very tempting to overstate the role of technology in all of this. Rebecca MacKinnon reminds the tech-happy among us that while the tools were vital, the courageous people of Egypt and Tunisia are the ones who deserve the credit for toppling their regimes.

A year ago, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton delivered a major speech arguing that the ability to connect to the internet-- and the ability to exercise free expression, assembly and commerce on the web-- should be considered an essential freedom in the 21st century, and essential to supporting other basic freedoms. Since her groundbreaking speech, the State Department has made gradual progress putting those very big ideas into practice. While State policy on internet freedom didn't have much to do with the insurrections in North Africa, recent events can help us understand how, exactly, the internet can bring about freer societies (this was the subject of my essay last week), and help inform State's efforts.  The agency has been wise to tread slowly in such uncharted territory.

Continuing to establish State's approach to these issues, Secretary Clinton will speak tomorrow at George Washington University, giving an address called "Internet Rights and Wrongs: Choices and Challenges in a Networked World." Not much indication of what she'll be saying, but it should certainly be an interesting talk. The speech will be live webcast, starting at 12:30; you can tune in here

President Obama on Egypt

It has been a captivating day, watching history unfold in Egypt. Speaking this afternoon, President Obama congratulated the Egyptian people on making their voices heard, and continued to call for a peaceful transition to democracy.

A video of his remarks is here, and the full text is here.  This was my favorite passage:

Above all, we saw a new generation emerge, a generation that uses their own creativity and talent and technology to call for a government that represented their hopes and not their fears. A government that is responsive to their boundless aspirations. One Egyptian put it simply -- most people have discovered in the last few days that they are worth something, and this cannot be taken away from them anymore. Ever.

Social Media in Egypt: A Second Public Sphere

I've been mostly silent on the "social media revolution in Egypt" meme because, frankly, I didn't want to join an already crowded chorus until enough information had emerged for the beginning of an actual analysis.  Justly or not, the idea of the uprising in Egypt being a "Twitter revolution" or "Facebook revolt" has become one of the major narratives in the American media.  This shouldn't be surprising, given the way the same narrative caught on during Iran's uprising in 2009. And, as Luke Allnutt argued well, there's an element of the "Twitter revolution" story that's appealing to Americans because, in some vaguely imperialistic yet satisfyingly altruistic way, it gives us a bit of the credit for the empowerment of the disenfranchised people of Egypt, Tunisia and wherever else.

But it's becoming more and more clear that in Tunisia and especially in Egypt, social media really have played pivotal roles in driving the uprising. "We are All Khaled Said," the Facebook group originally created to commemorate the brutal death of a young businessman at the hands of the Egyptian policy, was created last June by Wael Ghonim, the Google executive and activist blogger who has become a reluctant face of the movement since his release from prison and an emotional interview on Egyptian television this week. The group is widely credited with helping catalyze the initial protests last month. The "April 6 Youth Movement," another Facebook-based, youth-led democracy movement, also helped turn people out to protest, while Twitter has been a constant source of Egypt news for people around the world. 

Drilling down on this, it seems to me that social media could have contributed to the cause of the protesters in three distinct ways: as a tool for organizing, as a news source, and as a public sphere to build a community of like-minded activists. Let me assess the importance and potential each of those in turn...

Organizing Tool: In this construction, social media was an essential ingredient in mobilizing protesters to the streets and coordinating demonstrations. This is probably the most readily and widely understood theory of social-media-for-social-change, and in Egypt it seems to have held true. Massive Facebook groups like "Khaled Said" and "April 6" did play a significant role in organizing the initial protests and movtivating their users to demonstrate. Likewise, in Tunisia, Twitter appears to have been valuable for coordinating protests simultaneously in many cities across the country.

But it didn't take much for the Egyptian government to turn off the internet, and once access is denied, online tools aren't very useful for organizing a movement. Ethan Zuckerman, of the Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, described this dynamic last year: "The communications channels opened online tend to be compromised quickly, used for disinformation and for monitoring activists. And when protests get out of hand, governments of closed societies don’t hesitate to pull the plug on networks – China has blocked internet access in Xinjiang for months, and Ethiopia turned off SMS on mobile phone networks for years after they were used to organize street protests." 

These problems with Facebook and Twitter as organizing tools-- propaganda, surveillance and censorship of social media networks-- are comprehensively covered by Evgeny Morozov in his new book The Net Delusion. As we've seen in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere, social media certainly can be used as tools for organizing and mobilization of would-be protesters.  But it's awfully easy for nasty governments to take advantage of the same networks for ill-- or just shut them down. As I wrote about Tunisia, social media have certainly been useful tools for protesters, but once the Egyptian government did shut down the internet, the protests only gained steam, suggesting that these tools are not essential, at least once the protests have begun.

News Source: Of these three, the idea of social media as a global source for news is the most suspect, and the most easily subject to media hyperbole. It has certainly been captivating to follow the developments in Tahrir Square via Twitter, reading firsthand accounts as they stream in second-by-second. But if you really want to know what's going on, Al Jazeera has been the place to turn, almost no matter where you are on earth. Their coverage has been extraordinary, and a reminder of the power of "traditional" media. If these protests continue to spread across the Middle East, it will more likely be thanks to Al Jazeera than to Facebook.

In Tunisia, we saw a somewhat different phenomenon, where the mainstream media completely failed to notice the development of nationwide protests until the whole shebang was almost over. This was at least in part because the suppression of free press within the country prevented any major news outlets from even reporting the story. But Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other, local social media sites were all essential in getting news out of the country, and Al Jazeera, among other news outlets, eventually came to depend on this citizen reporting for their own coverage.

Now, we can ask if this sort of Twitter-for-global-awareness phenomenon is essential-- or even helpful-- to a revolutionary movement. I recall watching Meet the Press on the morning of Jan. 31, as Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institution and David Gregory looked at streams of Tweets about Egypt flowing into Tweetdeck. "You are witnessing here a 21st century revolution," said Indyk.  The trouble was, the internet and mobile networks were entirely shut down in Egypt.  Indyk is a brilliant guy, and the rest of his interview was very insightful, but that remark was pure hype and total nonsense.  In fact, what we were witnessing was so much chatter about Egypt coming from just about everyone except the revolutionaries themselves.

The protesters in Tunisia succeeded in ousting their president almost before the rest of the world knew what was going on. And in Egypt, the protests carried on and intensified even as the internet shutdown prevented protesters from Tweeting to the world. At a certain point, global awareness may help protect protesters from their own government-- international scrutiny does have a chilling effect on horrid humanitarian abuses-- but social media's role as a news source is probably not terribly important to the success of a revolt.

Public Sphere: This is the long-term theory-- the idea that, over time, activists can use social media and the broader online public space to discuss ideas, establish a shared perspective, and connect with like-minded individuals. Quoting Zuckerman again: "Communication tools may not lead to revolution immediately, but they provide a new rhetorical space where a new generation of leaders can think and speak freely. In the long run, this ability to create a new public sphere, parallel to the one controlled by the state, will empower a new generation of social actors, though perhaps not for many years." 

Without a doubt, the new generation of social actors in Egypt found their voice and built their movement in significant part on Facebook. Before using Facebook to bring people into the streets, the activsists used it to articulate their political critique and build a constituency around those ideas. A colleague of Zuckerman's at Berkman, Jillian York, was quoted in the New York Times describing the impact of the "We Are All Khaled Said" Facebook group: "Prior to the murder of Khaled Said, there were blogs and YouTube videos that existed about police torture, but there wasn’t a strong community around them. This case changed that."

This community has grown up over years.  A great new essay by Charles Hirschkind of Berkeley delves into the evolution of Egyptian blogosphere and social media-sphere, explaining how they "Have played a key role in transforming the conditions of political possibility in Egypt during the last decade, and of paving the way to Tahrir Square today." Building on offline social movements that began in the '90s, the growth of the Egyptian blogosphere starting in 2004-05, and eventually the Facebook-driven that has emerged in the past couple years.

In all three of these ways, social media played a role in Egypt. We must avoid overestimating the replicability of Facebook's use as an organizing tool and the impact of Twitter as a global news source. But we can be greatly encouraged by the ways social media acted as a public space for more free speech and assembly. Even while opposition political parties were significantly curtailed and civil society crushed at every turn, social media offered another place for discussion and dissent. Eventually, the dissent moved offline, and became real.

Echoing an analogy used by Secretary of State Clinton in her speech on Internet Freedom last year, Chairman of the Broadcasting Board of Governors Walter Isaacson compared social media in Egypt to Samizdat in the Soviet Union. Just as the underground literature circulated among Soviet dissidents helped establish a shared language of dissent and eventually subvert a wretched authoritarian regime, social media helped Egyptian activists establish their political position, build a community, and eventually bring people into the streets. The events in Egypt could still go in any number of directions-- it sounds like we'll know more tonight-- and we have to hope it works out well for the brave Egyptians who are just asking for a better life.

An Idea to Reshape Google.org

A Times article last Saturday gave a pretty harsh critique of Google.org, the search giant's philanthropic wing. Begun in 2004 with grand dreams of reinventing philanthropy and revolutionizing the non-profit world by leveraging Google's powerful technological assets and unconventional approach to problems, DotOrg has foundered. Today, it operates not unlike a "conventional corporate philanthropy," doling out cash to big nonprofits, with occasional cool, innovative projects like Flu Trends and Earth Engine. The article blames this on shifting, sometimes undependable leadership, and a disconnect between the social types of DotOrg and engineers of the DotCom.

The more core problem with Google.org, it seems, is their engineering-centric approach to social change. This is a widely-known, and yet very common mistake in the tech-for-development world. People get a powerful tool in their hands, and start looking for problems it can solve, rather than the other way around: addressing a specific problem, and thinking about how to solve it. To be sure, mobile phones and other new technologies have proven valuable tools for solving certain types of social problems, but only by taking a problem-centric, rather than solution-centric approach is any progress likely to be made. Google.org has been a consistent offender of this rule; after their brilliant algorithm solved the problem of search, it was easy to think that Google engineers could tackle any problem, provided they coded hard enough. But in the words of Professor Laurence Simon, quoted in the article: "there isn't any algorithm that's going to eradicate guinea worm."

To put it another way, Google's approach to philanthropy and global development was top-down. They thought that by creating super tools and technologies while sitting in Mountain View, lives in Haiti, Liberia, and India would be transformed. But solving vexing global problems doesn't usually work that way.  Usually, development is successful when it happens bottom-up: when communities or countries identify problems, imagine solutions, and implement their ideas. The does not describe the DotOrg approach to date. From the article:

Some DotOrg staff members with traditional nonprofit backgrounds proposed a system to track drugs for diseases like malaria and tuberculosis through the supply chain...

The plan never went anywhere, however, because text-messaging was not sophisticated enough to challenge Google's engineers.

In other words, the approach was too bottom-up to appeal to Google's tech-centric sensibilities.

But the good and well-meaning Googlers shouldn't be discouraged. Provided they are willing to re-think their approach to development, Google.org can offer, at once, a bottom-up, problem-centric approach to global challenges, while at the same time leverage Google's formidable monetary and technological assets in unconventional ways. What follows is one idea for how DotOrg can do this.

iHubAbout a year ago, a group of Kenyan technologists got together and founded the iHub, a place for techies to come together in Nairobi, share workspace, collaborate, learn, and find investment for their ideas.  With initial funding from the Omidyar Network, and riding high on the growing success and global recognition of Ushahidi, the successful SMS-based mapping application developed in Kenya in 2007, the iHub has helped knock down the perception of Africa as strictly a consumer-but not producer-of technology.  Since its founding, the concept of the iHub has been mimicked across sub-Saharan Africa, with similar collaboration spaces established in Uganda, Nigeria, Cameroon, and elsewhere, all helping promote and encourage African technologists and connecting them with capital.

Last summer, in partnership with the iHub and Appfrica Labs, a Ugandan technology and innovation space, the U.S. State Department ran an app contest called Apps<4>Africa, in which they challenged African software developers to write mobile phone apps that would benefit the people of Africa. The winning app, written by a member of the iHub, was called iCow, and is a voice-based mobile app that "helps farmers track the estrus stages of their cows," with the hopes of allowing them to better manage breeding in their herd. Other apps took on problems of governmental corruption, maternal health, small-scale finance and banking, among a wide array of very real challenges in everyday life for African citizens.

These tech hubs are remarkable not just as technology institutions, but as institutions of civil society and entrepreneurial vibrancy as well. For any developing country to overcome poverty and emerge as a successful middle-income state, a strong civil society and a robust economy are two essential ingredients.  By serving as places for tech-savvy citizens to come together and vectors for investment to reach entrepreneurs and the iHub and its followers are incubators for both of these things. If Google.org wants to create a meaningful impact on global development while leveraging their position as one of the world's premier tech companies, these technology hubs are one very unconventional way to go about it.  Here's how:

- Building Hubs: Right now, the iHub is supported financially by Ushahidi. Not every developing country has such a successful project so well positioned to be the convener and financier of a technology hub. DotOrg could help finance existing hubs, while creating and building new hubs throughout the developing world, bringing together local developers, business interests and social actors to innovate and collaborate.

- App Contests & More: An app contest is a cheap and easy project to run, but can serve as a valuable incentive for inexperienced developers to try their hand at entrepreneurship, while also making for great publicity-both for the sponsor and the winning developers. Small scale projects like app contests can help put technology hubs on the map, identify the most promising engineers, and launch a few useful new technologies, to boot.  

- Talent Sharing: From the inception of DotOrg, Google has sought to leverage the power of their staff: a collection of some of the best software developers in the world. But sitting in Mountain View, the developers themselves have had little connection to the challenges of people in the developing world. Why not create fellowships for their talented engineers to spend time in a foreign technology hub, teaching young developers and helping build and improve nascent projects.

- Venture Capital: Rather than seeking to build their own world-saving tools or pouring money into "conventional" philanthropic projects, DotOrg should invest in the best of the innumerable homegrown ideas for technology development. Active tech hubs are gold mines of entrepreneurs and ideas, and as a foundation, DotOrg can make more investments and accept a higher degree of risk than a strictly for-profit VC investor. If the successful projects are explicitly focused on improving social conditions, so much the better, but either way, investment capital is a key to economic development anywhere.

By engaging with the burgeoning technology hubs in Africa, helping to create new ones throughout the developing world, and using the hubs as platforms for sharing their technological and monetary assets, Google.org could have a very real impact in helping poor countries develop from the bottom up.  Supporting the private sector-whether tech-based social enterprises or straight-up for-profit technology companies-and helping strengthen civil society are two somewhat unconventional yet crucially important elements of global development. And DotOrg has a unique comparative advantage in doing so through technology.

What's more, Google can see this endeavor as beneficial to their bottom line. Robust technology hubs around the world will eventually yield products that the company may want to acquire for itself-so that it can build its own business in the developing world. Additionally, technology hubs will provide a valuable talent pool for future hiring. Google recently brought on Ory Okolloh as their policy manager for Africa; before joining Google, Ory was one of the founders of Ushahidi and involved with the iHub in Nairobi.  With a robust network of technology hubs around the world, Google will have early access to the best ideas and people, and DotOrg will live up to its promise of operating in part as a for-profit entity.

For many in the development world, Google.org has been a bit of a disappointment after the great hopes surrounding its launch. A few scattered projects have made an impact, and the company deserves applause for the level of its philanthropy alone-Google donated $184 million last year-but DotOrg has greater potential.  The iHub is already on the company's radar: Google is hosting a "mapping party" there next week for women working in tech and social development.  If the foundation can overcome its tech-centric, solution-oriented approach to global change, and instead leverage its advantages in ways that facilitate bottom-up development, Google.org could become a real leader in the field.

Cross-posted at swdupont.com

Vodafone "Forced" to Send Pro-Government Messages in Egypt

According to a Vodafone press release, the Egyptian government forced the mobile carrier to send pro-government text messages to its subscribers:

Under the emergency powers provisions of the Telecoms Act, the Egyptian authorities can instruct the mobile networks of Mobinil, Etisalat and Vodafone to send messages to the people of Egypt. They have used this since the start of the protests. These messages are not scripted by any of the mobile network operators and we do not have the ability to respond to the authorities on their content.

Vodafone Group has protested to the authorities that the current situation regarding these messages is unacceptable. We have made clear that all messages should be transparent and clearly attributable to the originator.

Two points on this.  First, Egypt has been in a "state of emergency" for over 40 years.  Emergency law was imposed during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, and except for a brief hiatus in the early '80s, the extraordinary powers afforded the government in a time of crisis have been in effect since then.  So it's hard to suggest that Vodafone was surprised by the Egyptian government's legal authority to abuse its networks in this way.

Second, Vodafone's suggestion that they had no choice in this matter-- that the company was forced to send the messages without editing the content or discussing the matter with the authorities-- doesn't sound quite right. Of course, we want telecom companies to respect the laws of the countries in which they operate. But when the laws are such an obvious abuse of power, in such important circumstances, and so damaging to the operator itself, I would hope for a bit more pushback.  

Vodafone carries over 40% of the mobile users in Egypt, and while they certainly wouldn't want to lose their 25-ish million subscribers (out of 330+ million subscribers globally), the Egyptian government doesn't want to see them walk out either. I'm not suggesting that Vodafone should have abandoned their customers in Egypt-- mobile phones have been an important tool to protesters, and most people probably knew better than to believe the messages, anyway-- but at a time when every other actor in the system is putting pressure on the Egyptian government to change, Vodafone could have-- and should have-- done the same, and refused to send the messages.

Obama Administration's Evolving Language on Egypt

Since Friday, it's been very encouraging to listen to the evolution of how the State Department and White House have talked about Egypt. What began as cautious encouragement of their close ally Mubarak to listen to the demands of protesters has become full-throated support for a democratic transition.

On Friday night, President Obama defended the basic freedoms of the Egyptian people, and called upon the Egyptian government to reconnect internet and mobile service. He also made this encouraging but very cautious statement

What's needed right now are concrete steps that advance the rights of the Egyptian people:  a meaningful dialogue between the government and its citizens, and a path of political change that leads to a future of greater freedom and greater opportunity and justice for the Egyptian people... The United States always will be a partner in pursuit of that future.  And we are committed to working with the Egyptian government and the Egyptian people -- all quarters -- to achieve it.

Yesterday, Secretary Clinton's urged an "orderly transition" to democracy in Egypt, in a series of interviews on Meet the Press and elsewhere: 

I want the Egyptian people to have the chance to chart a new future. It needs to be an orderly, peaceful transition to real democracy, not faux democracy like the elections we saw in Iran two years ago, where you have one election 30 years ago and then the people just keep staying in power and become less and less responsive to their people. We want to see a real democracy that reflects the vibrancy of Egyptian society. And we believe that President Mubarak, his government, civil society, political activists, need to be part of a national dialogue to bring that about.

While expressions of concern for peace and the protection of human rights have been in the Administration's pronouncements on Egypt since the beginning of the protests, the emergence of their support for a "transition" came only gradually, as it has become more and more clear that Mubarak is unlikely to stay in power without a brutal, bloody crackdown (which the army may be unwilling to implement, anyway).

A fourth element of the Obama Administration's approach (in addition to peace, human rights and democratic transition) which we have not heard clearly enunciated in public, but which was reported by Mike Allen in Politico

This is about more than just Egypt. The people of the Middle East, like people everywhere, are seeking a chance to contribute and to have a role in the decisions that will shape their lives.

There's a lot about the idea of cascading democratic revolutions in the Middle East that's scary for U.S. security strategy: What will it mean for Israel? For the price of oil? For our military posture in the region? But what we've seen in Egypt this past week can hardly be considered "stability." If these protests continue to spread across the Middle East, we ought to support them not just for the sake of the people of these countries-- who have suffered repression for too long-- but for the sake of a democratic future in a Middle East that is more stable and more a part of the global community.

March for Egyptian Democracy in Washington

A demonstration that began in front of the Egyptian Embassy in Washington today became a march to the White House, with 400-500 demonstrators processing down Connecticut Avenue chanting in English and Arabic, calling on Hosni Mubarak and the rest of the Egyptian leadership to yield to Egyptians' demands for democracy. I cut together a few photos and a recording of the march into the video below:

In conversations with some of the leaders of the demonstration, themselves Egyptian expats, they explained the demonstration as a show of support for the protesters on the ground in Egypt and a call for democratic elections. The organizers felt positively about President Obama's remarks last night, stressing that Egyptians were revolting on their own-- and did not need American help in organizing from the bottom up-- but that realigning American aid from military support for Mubarak's regime to greater support of Egyptian civil society would help Egypt build a strong democracy.

It was an impressive sight, so many people out in support of their countrymen half a world away. Images of the rally may not make it to Cairo soon-- internet access is still shut down, and little information is getting in or out of the country-- but it's great to see so many people standing in solidarity.

Higher resolution versions of the photos are available here.

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