This doesn’t mean that democracy advocates should wring their hands and stand aside, but it does mean we need to think about promoting deeper social change over longer periods. To become and remain democratic, countries need to develop cultural values hospitable to the rule of law, protection of private property, transparency and peaceful transitions of power that are grounded in their own religious and cultural identities. That is not, ultimately, a process that foreigners can orchestrate or control.
A more sustainable and effective democracy agenda would start with education. Helping talented young people get access to good education will, over time, do more to promote democratic ideals than anything else. This doesn’t just mean offering more students more opportunities to study abroad. Many countries, like Egypt, have terrible postsecondary systems. Founding new schools, helping existing ones, and promoting partnerships between Western and foreign institutions can go a long way.
In many countries, the lack of access to good English-language instruction at an early age is one of the great barriers that struggling families face. Teaching English to large numbers of people from poor backgrounds is ultimately a political act: As their language skills help them get better educations and better jobs, internal pressure for a fairer society will increase.