Delta Democracy: A Conversation with Catherine Herrold (S. 8, Ep. 21)

Catherine Herrold talks about her latest book, Delta Democracy: Pathways to Incremental Civic Revolution in Egypt and Beyond, with Marc Lynch on this week’s podcast.  The book uncovers the strategies that Egyptian NGOs have used to advance the aims of the country’s 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

“What the book argues is that, in fact, many development NGOs and local grant making foundations did promote democracy. But they did so in ways that went unrecognized by the Western democracy promotion establishment and, far more importantly, by successive ruling regimes in Egypt. And they did so, number one, by masking their democracy promotion work…And number two, instead of focusing on the procedural form of democracy, they sought to build substantive democracy through participation, free expression, and rights claiming at grassroots levels,” explains Herrold.

She goes on to say, “these development NGO and foundations really focused on the grassroots and they created spaces for collective action for discussion, for debate, for problem solving…They created spaces for free expression through arts and culture and other means in which citizens could come together and express their views for the future of Egypt. And they coached grassroots communities on their basic human rights as citizens and on claiming those rights from local government officials…”

Herrold argues, “There are three to four primary weaknesses of U.S. democracy assistance. Number one, it focuses almost exclusively on a procedural form of democracy. It seeks to reform national political institutions often in the shape of U.S. democratic institutions which are not necessarily the types of institutions that…might be best in the target country. Number two, it is expressly political. So it’s separate from aid for socioeconomic development or humanitarian assistance. [Number three], it’s also highly technical. Democracy aid produces outputs such as reports trainings et cetera that often fail to result in the desired outcome of democracy…And finally it tends to be elite…It tends to circulate in a relatively elite militia of highly trained, highly educated professionals…”


Catherine Herrold is an Assistant Professor at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy and a Faculty Affiliate of the Indiana University Paul H. O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. She has also served as a Visiting Scholar at the American University in Cairo (Egypt) and Birzeit University (Palestine). She has conducted fieldwork in Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, and Qatar.

Music for this season’s podcast was created by Feras Arrabi. You can find more of his work on his Facebook and Instagram page.

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