The U.S. Wants to Create a Political Geek Squad in Egypt

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Editor’s Note: The following is a guest post by Jerry Brito, a policy wonk and web developer based in Washington, D.C.

After what some are calling a “Facebook revolution” in Egypt, you’d think that the Egyptians would have something to teach us about digital civic activism, and not the other way around. But the State Department has other ideas.

Last week, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the U.S. was preparing a $150 million aid package to help promote a democratic transition in Egypt. A portion of that amount will likely go to train Egyptians how to use digital technologies to help in that transition, said Clinton’s innovation advisor Alec Ross.

But what would such an aid package accomplish?

Harvard digital democracy expert Ethan Zuckerman says that “we could imagine digital tools having an effect not just in organizing and promoting protests, but also in brainstorming ideas for a post-transition Egypt.”

He explains that Google executive turned revolutionary leader Wael Ghonim has been soliciting the advice of his followers about the transition.

“If figures like Ghonim end up involved in conversations about the transition, it’s easy to see how they might look to input from youth via social networks, either existing networks like Facebook or through the sorts of tools State is trying to deploy,” Zuckerman said.

But there are skeptics.

Evgeny Morozov, a Stanford University Scholar who’s Twitter feed has been a go-to source for information on the revolutions in the Middle East, is afraid that the $150 million aid package–a small amount relative to the $2 billion Egypt receives in aid from the U.S. every year–is just a PR move. He’s also skeptical about the digital tools that might be funded.

“I bet that drafting a new constitution using a Wiki would be a bad idea,” says Morozov. “I hope they won’t be funding wild experiments like this.”

Jerry Brito is a contributor to TIME. Find him on Twitter at @jerrybrito. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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