Osama Wahba from Egypt studying at the University of South Carolina is one of 12 finalists for the ISV Magazine scholarship. Read his essay here!
On my eighteenth birthday, polls opened for elections in Cairo. I cast my first vote ever against President Mubarak, a man who has been presiding over Egypt for over a quarter of a century. Upon my return home from the polls, I excitedly informed my parents truly believing that they would be proud of their son for trying to change Egypt for the better. Fearing the worst for our family, instead, my father forced me back to the polling station where he spoke to the policeman in charge. ”
I’m very sorry,” he said, “but I think Osama made a mistake on his ballot.”
“Yes, he did,” replied the policeman. “But don’t worry. Fortunately we potted his mistake and have already corrected it. Please be more careful next time!”
In the year following, I poured over my high school textbooks, frequently into the early hours of the morning. Whenever I became fatigued I recalled how close I was to achieving my goal. One sunny afternoon, I saw a thick letter with a Cairo University postmark in my mailbox. I was now a freshman at the top Political Science school in North Africa and the Middle East. Academics at Cairo University were most challenging yet, piqued by the subject that interests me the most, I earned a CGPA of “Very Good” with highest honors and ranked ninth in a school where hundred percent of the student body was, literally, among the top 0.001 percent of graduating high school students in Egypt. I was on my way to becoming a political scientist, a powerful accelerant of political change in Egypt.
In 2005, I received an invitation to the American Embassy in Cairo.
“Congratulations,” bellowed the US Ambassador to Egypt as he addressed me at his office. “You are one of only two scholars selected from Egypt to pursue your Baccalaureate in America under the auspices of the US Department of State’s PLUS’ Fulbright Program.”
In an initiative to ignite democracy in a region whose political life has long been stifled, the US government recognized my leadership potential as a young political science scholar struggling for political change in Egypt.
Soon after six months of rigorous language and leadership training with the United States Department of State, I began my academics at the University of South Carolina (USC) while touring America under the Fulbright program to examine the principles of democracy. From papers at conferences, workshops, seminars, and symposia to presentations at simulation models, media interviews, and meetings with government officials in over a dozen cities across America, my efforts were recognized by fourteen different academic, leadership, volunteer and community service awards, honors, and distinctions.
Most recently, on November 21 the Elliot School of International Affairs, the Brookings institute, and Americans for Informed Democracy saw fit to bestow upon me the title of Young Global Leader. With a travel grant from USC I crossed the Atlantic for the London Young Global Leaders Summit where I delivered my presentation, “Democracy: A Western or a Universal Value?” I rejected the notion that democracy is only a Western value, arguing that democracy simply means good government rooted in accountability and transparency.
During my independent study, “The Theory of Democracy Prevention,” I learned that prevailing theories concerning democracy tend to blame the Arab World’s persistent democratic deficit on historical, cultural, or religious factors. As important as these conventional, slowly changing variables are, the international system and its commitments to political liberalization in the region underwent rapid transformations in the 1990s and beyond. Within the context of the international structure of power, in my PhD dissertation I plan to bridge the existing gap in current literature by examining foreign influence on democratization in the Arab World, particularly the strategic alliances with the US and the role of intergovernmental organizations. These two variables are typically credited with promoting democracy in the region; however, could they rather be conceived as a force hindering the inauguration of democracy?
After earning my doctorate from the University of South Carolina, I envision a career in academia at Cairo University where I would be involved in teaching and in political research. I have experienced the joys of teaching and spreading my love of research to undergraduates at USC. To build on this experience, I would welcome the opportunity to teach upon my return home. An inspired teacher can bring out talents, encourage innovation and raise a new generation of scientists to affect many influential changes.
Besides teaching, academic research remains my primary passion. I find very little is as rewarding as filling blank pages with a set of statements, crafting from a myriad of sources a coherent research piece that, should it survive the tests of time and place, could become a political theory central to the process of political change in Egypt. My PhD studies in the United State will transform me into a political scientist qualified to understand the processes of political change and to suggest ways in which this understanding could be used for political reform in Egypt, incrementally in the spirit of one soul at a time. The younger generation of realistic Indian political scientists trained during the 1950s in the United States played an active role in articulating ideas that were central to the Indian democratic process. This is the professional calling of Political Science. It is not just an intellectual discipline; it is also a moral one.
My friends often ask me, “Do you really think you will be able to change the country by studying in the United States and becoming a political scientist?”
I will know the reward of the pursuit of my goal when in the years of change which lie ahead, I see my son coming back home from the polls with pride, head raised and voice loud informing me that he just cast his true vote, a vote that cannot be changed.