Editor’s note: Daily Bruin columnist and third-year study of religion student Gina Kass is spending the year abroad in Cairo, Egypt. She writes in about how the election season is viewed from halfway around the world.
In a post-revolutionary Egypt, the subject of politics is difficult to avoid. My school here ““ The American University in Cairo ““ is home not only to numerous outspoken professors, but students who themselves participated in the revolution.
My first week in Egypt brought with it the realization that many of my peers were in Tahrir Square on February 11, 2011, the day that former President Hosni Mubarak’s almost 30-year regime ended.
The political shifts going on in Egypt right now are a reminder that, even half a world away, it is important to have a stake in the U.S. elections.
There is a certain detachment that comes with being abroad during election time. There are no billboards, no signposts in anyone’s yard, no television advertisements and no students accosting you on your way through campus to vote such-and-such way on such-and-such proposition.
A reprieve from this Bruin Walk-like bombardment may sound nice, but it also carries with it a lack of understanding about the election’s central issues. I didn’t know the death penalty was up for vote in California until I deliberately took to the Internet and researched every proposition.
Political issues in Egypt seem to be of much more importance than those in our election.
In May, Egypt held its first-ever free presidential election, and now, a draft of the constitution is in the works.
Before January 2011, there was no need to be active in Egyptian politics, because votes in unopposed elections are useless.
The issues facing a nascent democracy, one reconstructing its very political system, hold an urgency that far surpasses those tired talking points Americans hear in our presidential debates.
It is easy to become disillusioned with U.S. politics, especially from abroad. But just as Egyptians took responsibility for their country less than two years ago, we must continue to take responsibility for our country today.
Our current hot-button issues might not carry the magnitude that comes with drafting a new constitution, but we vote constantly on what economic models we will lend precedence to and what social values we hope to protect.
Voting in the U.S. is a constant re-evaluation of our principles.
Despite the inconvenience that comes with voting abroad ““ a trip to the embassy and an application for an absentee ballot ““ I’ve decided I must vote this year. In fact, I already have.
I want to return to a democracy with which I have actively engaged, which I have openly questioned, and ultimately lent my input to shape.
Studying in Egypt has also shown me that voting in the U.S. elections is important because of the remarkable extent to which the U.S. still plays kingmaker through foreign aid and involvement.
In a post on the New York Times website, Daniel W. Drezner, a professor of international politics at Tufts University, writes, “Whenever something happens somewhere in the world, the expectation is that the United States will be part of the policy solution.” He adds, “Because presidents have so much more leeway to do what they want in the global realm … I now vote based on foreign policy.”
Drezner argues that, though most Americans vote for a presidential candidate based on economic policies, the executive branch is restrained in how much it can guide the national economy. After all, budgets and taxes require congressional approval.
But, in the area of foreign affairs, presidents have a far greater capacity to enact the policies they want. Congress, for example, hesitates to disagree with the executive branch when it comes to national security issues.
As far as Egypt goes, both presidential candidates have endorsed economic aid as a means to guide the Egyptian government toward practices that the U.S. condones. Both also voiced approval in the debates of U.S. support for the Egyptian people during the uprisings last January.
While taking into account the mammoth footprint of the U.S. overseas, what is perhaps most relevant to consider on Election Day is this: As Americans, we can vote on the direction of our foreign policy by voting in the presidential election. Egyptians, and others in foreign countries, are affected by those policies ““ affected by the way U.S. citizens vote.
My stay in Egypt is far from over, but it has already shown me that voting is a right to be held in great esteem and should not be taken for granted.