Egypt's misguided search for heroes
A change of mind-set about Egypt's history and future is necessary in that country. The history of nations is not defined by heroes in the presidential palace but by heroes on the street. Egypt must focus on building citizen-led institutions to best meet current and future challenges.
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President Obama has often tried to emphasize the idea that change does not come from government, but rather from the people when they demand it. This conception of citizenship is central to the future of Egypt. Nations are not built by leaders alone, but rather by ordinary people pushing leaders to act. Lyndon Johnson did not pass civil rights legislation without the activists in the South, and Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsi did not get elected president without the people in Tahrir Square. An active and engaged citizenry plays a central role in the development of prosperous nations.Skip to next paragraph
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Don’t get me wrong: Leaders play an important role in offering a vision and direction for a country, but the key to the future does not rest only in “heroic” leaders, but rather in an involved citizenry and strong institutions. Strong institutions are important because they can withstand the fluctuations in leadership that a country is bound to experience, and the best way to build these institutions is not through the wisdom of one or two people, but rather through a collective effort by the country as a whole to develop institutions that are built on meritocracy, accountability, and the rule of law, rather than corruption.
Just as the Egyptian revolution was a bottom-up revolution started and led by the people, the future of Egypt will rest on the activities of the citizenry at large. From the people in Tahrir Square who are demanding change to those in the small unforgotten towns on the Nile Delta who are beginning the process of community-organizing, Egyptians are engaged in this new conception of citizenship that will focus on the building of strong institutions that will prove foundational for the future. A change of mind-set about the country’s history and its future is necessary in Egypt. The history of nations is not defined by heroes in the presidential palace but by the heroes on the street.
Nabeel Zewail is an Egyptian-American student at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service.