- Associated Press - Saturday, July 18, 2015

HAMILTON, Ohio (AP) - The current state of American democracy is something Egyptian student Mahmoud Harb believes can eventually work in his home country - but just not yet.

Harb is one of nearly two dozen students from the Middle East and north Africa to stay at Miami University in Oxford as part of a program with the university’s Hamilton campus. It’s the third year of a three-year grant for the Study of the U.S. Institute on Civic Engagement program, which runs through the end of this month.

The students are learning about American democracy, from politics to government to culture. And while Harb, like many of the other students, said the experience is “incredible,” he believes it will take generations to invoke the change needed to make Egyptian politics and elections more like the American-style of democracy.

“It’s far away from our political voting system,” he said after touring the Butler County Board of Elections on Tuesday. “We have traditional ways of voting, but this way is modern. You can guarantee honest (elections) here.”

In recent years, Egypt has been plagued with corrupt leaders, most notably recent former presidents Honsi Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi. Both deposed presidents are in prison and had roles in the fatal 2011 Egyptian revolution. Egypt’s current president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as Egypt’s Minister of Defence, led the ousting of Morsi in 2013.

“Maybe the younger generations will do better,” he said. “Of course we’ll do better.”

After the students leave, Miami Hamilton officials will decide if the school wants to re-apply for the state department grant and continue participating in the Study of the U.S. Institute on Civic Engagement program.

“The idea is to give them a good look on how American democracy works,” said Miami University Hamilton political science professor John Forren. “It also gives them some academic background in terms of democratic processes, how American government works, so we talk a lot about the U.S. Constitution, we talk a lot about the checks and balances and democratic government.”

And what they learn here, Forren said, the students will take back these skills to their home countries and work in their own communities.

“It’s important to give people from these places that are struggling in various ways to set up democratic systems of government themselves,” he said. “Part of it is to help them in that process, so that’s why the state department is interested in doing this. It’s really part of the state department’s diplomatic efforts to build democratic systems around the world.”

Andrew Luther, also of Egypt, said each of the students are charged with developing a civic action plan, addressing a civics problem. Luther’s plan is addressing the problem of political unawareness, the loss of political culture and the loss of citizenship in his home country.

“I wasn’t thinking that this would be as great as it showed to be,” Luther said of the program.

This program, and other similar programs, promotes “better understanding” in the field of international education, and relationships are developed between people and communities in the United States and around the world, which “are necessary to solve global challenges,” according to a U.S. Department of State official.

“Through programs such as the Study of the U.S. Institutes, participants engage with Americans, build their awareness of U.S. society and institutions while sharing their own cultures, and increase their understanding of different perspectives from across the globe,” according to the state department.

Each year, SUSI programs bring more than 650 participants to the United States, according to the state department. Students who have studied at Miami University have gone back to their home countries and developed projects and social action plans to support civic and community engagement, according to the state department.

This year, student leaders and scholars represent 114 countries, according to the state department. And this year’s group at Miami come from Egypt, Tunisia, Palestinian Territories, Jordan, Iraq and Syria.

Political science major Jeremy McQueen, who is entering his sophomore year at Miami Hamilton, said he has not only learned more about his overseas peers, but more about his own country - specifically the difficulties in running an election.

“It’s very important for everybody to get educated about the problems we’re having (in this country), so we don’t repeat mistakes,” he said. “We are the future leaders of America.”

Students were in Columbus on Wednesday visiting the Ohio Statehouse and Ohio Supreme Court. Rep. Tim Derickson, R-Hanover Twp., talked with the students who visited the Statehouse last year. He said they were “surprised” to learn how government operates - such as having open debate and allow citizens to comment on pending legislation and issues.

“We have such a democratic process, an open process, that many their countries don’t that it’s enlightening and encouraging that those students wanted to learn more. It was enlightening to them,” Derickson said. “We don’t always agree, but it’s transparent and that’s good government.”


Information from: The JournalNews of Hamilton, https://www.journal-news.com/cgi-bin/liveique.acgi$sch=jnfront?jnfront

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