Struggles in Turkey, Egypt, and other countries have inflamed international news recently and, in the process, spotlighted the most recent book published by Peaks Island scholar and author Julie Fisher. Fisher’s hot-off-the-press Importing Democracy: The Role of NGOs in South Africa, Tajikistan, and Argentina (Kettering Foundation Press, 2013) illuminates the nature of struggles for democracy internationally with a clarity that should make Americans sit up and take notice. While much U.S. foreign policy tries to export democracy militarily or by fostering free elections, Fisher advocates for a fuller understanding of what’s required for democracy to “stick,” one that would support countries engaged in democratization.
My visit with Fisher at her island home coincided with one of her many radio interviews, some given in studios and others by phone. Since our interview followed on the heels of the ouster of Egypt’s President Morsi, Egypt started our conversation.
“Democracy is a ‘puzzle’ whose various pieces must find their place. Egypt is the number one story in the news right now. In order to get the democratization process going anywhere, you need a whole triangle of processes; Egypt demonstrates that election is only one piece of the democratization puzzle,” Fisher said.
What are the elements of the triangle of democratization? It goes something like this:
1) Loyal Opposition (the opposition to policies of a ruling regime without overthrow); and
2) Popular Support (as seen in protests demanding accountability of government); and
3) Civil Society (the whole collection of organizations that are non governmental, such as churches, non-profits, and community organizations).
Fisher explains that most countries achieve political participation and protests, but not loyal opposition. Or, their civil society is too weak to carry forward the work of protests because she said, “People tire of being in the streets. They need the non-profit organizations to continue the change.” Importing Democracy outlines several case studies of what Fisher calls “democratization NGOs”, or the “spear carriers” that help strengthen democratization processes. These case studies are based upon her own research.
Fisher’s new book is garnering attention locally and internationally. Keith Shortall of Maine Things Considered invited her to speak with him about the ideals of U.S. democracy in honor of Independence Day; this interview joined that of many other radio stations from California to Colorado and Minnesota to Florida. Fisher was also invited to speak at the The Anne Frank Center USA in New York City and at the Library of Congress.
If you would like to meet Julie or see her book, you can catch her this week at the Color and Pages of Peaks event on July 12-13 or you can attend her Brown Bag Lecture and book signing at the Portland Public Library on September 27th at noon.