February 10, 2011

"Students consider four different views of what should motivate US policy toward Egypt, then have a dialogue about it. (For more on Egypt, see War, Peace, Terrorism & Other Global Issues below.)"


(4 minutes)

Ask a few volunteers to share one word that describes what they've been hearing about developments in Egypt over the past few weeks.


Introduction to Today's Lesson

(1 minute)

Explain that in today's lesson you'll be looking at the American role in events in Egypt over the past few weeks. As your students might be aware, there's been a debate about how President Obama and the rest of the US government has responded to what is happening in this part of the world. Today students will be comparing different media sources and different opinions on this issue through small group dialogue.

National Security versus Freedom and Democracy?

(15-20 minutes)

Instruct students to watch, read and listen to the following news sources about the US role in the Egyptian events that have been unfolding over the past two weeks. (See the video and audio links - as well as the written excerpts - at the bottom of this lesson.)

1) A CBS News clip from January 28, 2011 (2:32 min)
2) An excerpt from an Op Ed on the Al Jazeera English website from February 2
3) An excerpt from an Op Ed on the Al Jazeera English website from January 28
4) An NPR audio file from February 2 (5:16 min)

After students have heard or listened to these reports:

  • Ask half of your class to focus on the argument that it is important that Obama (and the US) focus on national security in this situation. What are the arguments being made for this?
  • Ask the other half of your class to focus on the argument that it is important that Obama (and the US) focus on freedom and democracy. What are the arguments being made for this?

Microlabs Roleplay

(20-25 minutes)

(5 minutes) Divide your class into groups of six (three representatives who were assigned the "national security" argument and three representatives assigned the "freedom and democracy" argument ). Give each group of three five minutes to prepare an argument in support of the position they were assigned (whether they personally agree with it or not) to present to the others in their microlab.

(3 minutes) Instruct the "national security" group to present its case first. Encourage the "freedom and democracy" group to pay close attention, listening for understanding, taking notes if necessary and asking clarifying questions if they choose.

(3 minutes) Next instruct the "freedom and democracy" group to present its case. Again, instruct the other group to pay close attention, listening for understanding and when needed asking clarifying questions.

(9 minutes) After both groups have had a chance to present their case, instruct the groups of six to engage in a dialogue-not a debate-about what kind of involvement the US should have in Egypt. What parties should they engage with and how?

Before you begin the dialogue, you might want to have a discussion with the class about the difference between dialogue and debate. Most of us are familiar with debate as a way to argue a point. Debate is an approach that takes place between opponents, who are combative, trying to prove each other wrong. It's often a zero sum game that's all about one side winning, the other losing. In debate opponents listen for flaws and weaknesses in the other side's argument. They defend their own assumptions as truth assuming theirs is the one right answer. There is little to no investment in the relationship, and in a heated debate people may belittle, criticize, or even ridicule the other side.

Dialogue, on the other hand, is a cooperative endeavor that takes place between partners. In dialogue, people listen so that they can understand the other position, seeking to find common ground that allows all parties to win. In dialogue partners reveal their assumptions and reexamine their various positions, assuming that different people have pieces of the answer and that together we can work on stronger solutions. Dialogue requires the partners respect one another and to be open-minded, open to being wrong and open to change.



(5 minutes)

Ask some volunteers what they thought about dialogue as an approach to sharing different opinions. What did they learn? How might things have been different if the instructions had been to approach the assignment through debate? Could they see using dialogue in other parts of their lives?



1) A CBS News clip from January 28: President Mubarak's relationship with U.S. in Question



2) An excerpt from Op Ed The Arab World at a Tipping Point by Michael C. Hudson on the Al Jazeera English website from February 2:


Dilemma for the US and Israel

The Obama administration's confused and timid reaction reflects all too clearly the dilemma it faces. Egypt is a lynchpin of the American security architecture for the greater Middle East. Egypt helps guarantee Israel's interests. Omar Suleiman [the newly appointed Vice President of Egypt] played a key role in helping Israel seal off Gaza in their common effort to dislodge the Hamas government there. Successive administrations have poured money into Egypt to secure its regime and reinforce its client status.

A radical Islamic takeover in Egypt would constitute the worst possible scenario for Washington and Tel Aviv [the capital of Israel]. But for Israel even the evolution of a new Egypt along Turkish lines would be anathema. Once again, the US is caught between its professed ideals of promoting democracy and freedom and its perceived interest in a Middle East whose publics (and their anti-American, anti-Israeli opinions) are sidelined from political participation by friendly authoritarian rulers.

So far the protesters in Egypt are not targeting America, and Washington has a moment of opportunity to do the right thing and get behind the transition. But its response so far is weak and hypocritical. If it comes down on the side of the old status quo its real adversaries in the region - Iran and the radical movements - will benefit.


3) An excerpt from Op Ed President Obama, Say the D-Word by Mark LeVine on the Al Jazeera English website from January 28:


Al Jazeera interview says it all

An Al Jazeera English interview on Thursday with US state department spokesman PJ Crowley perfectly summed up the sustainability of the Obama administration's position. In some of the most direct and unrelenting questioning of a US official I have ever witnessed, News Hour anchor Shihab al-Rattansi repeatedly pushed Crowley to own up to the hypocrisy and absurdity of the administration's position of offering mild criticism of Mubarak while continuing to ply him with billions of dollars in aid and political support.

When pressed about how the US-backed security services are beating and torturing and even killing protesters, and whether it wasn't time for the US to consider discontinuing aid, Crowley responded that "we don't see this as an either or [a minute later, he said "zero sum"] proposition. Egypt is a friend of the US, is an anchor of stability and helping us pursue peace in the Middle East".

Each part of this statement is manifestly false; the fact that in the midst of intensifying protests senior officials feel they can spin the events away from openly calling for a real democratic transition now reveals either incredible ignorance, arrogance, or both.

Yet this is precisely an either/or moment. Much as former US president Bush declared in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, we can either be "with or against" the Egyptian people. Refusing to take sides is in fact taking sides -the wrong side.

Moreover, Crowley, like his superiors, refused to use the word democracy, responding to its use by anchor al-Rattansi with the word "reform" while arguing that it was unproductive to tie events in Egypt to the protests in other countries such as Tunis or Jordan because each has its own "indigenous" forces and reasons for discontent.

That is a very convenient singularization of the democracy movements, which ignores the large number of similarities in the demands of protests across the region, the tactics and strategies of protest, and their broader distaste and distrust of the US in view of its untrammeled support for dictatorships across the region."


4) On February 2nd Steve Inskeep of National Public Radio (NPR) talked to Leslie Gelb and Robert Kagan about US strategy in Egypt:




This lesson was written for TeachableMoment by Marieke van Woerkom, a trainer and global facilitator who works as a staff developer for Morningside Center.

We welcome your comments. Please email them to Marieke at:,or to Morningside Center at: