Egypt’s First Steps
Some 23 million citizens cast ballots in Egypt’s first free presidential election, a historic achievement regardless of who wins the runoff. The photos of Egyptian women at the polls were particularly stirring, given the limits many Islamic nations still place on women’s education and civic roles. But the election euphoria died when the results of the first round were announced. A cache of moderates had split the vote, leaving two more hardline candidates the winners: Amed Shafik, a former prime minister of Egypt under Hosni Mubarak, and Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Either choice is risky. Mr. Shafik might return the nation to its authoritarian, military-controlled past. Mr. Morsi might interject Islam into governing in ways detrimental to Egyptian women, secularists and adherents of non-Muslim faiths. Both candidates present foreign policy challenges for the West, other Islamic states and Israel. Neither candidate is actually the people’s choice.
Self-government requires sustained citizen activism, political organization and skill. The losing candidates will have to build coalitions and stay active. The Islamist majority in Parliament could, if coupled with an Islamist president, skew the focus and direction of government. Voters must monitor events. First, the military council that has run the country since Mr. Mubarak’s arrest is to hand over its powers to the newly elected president. A peaceful transition to a civilian-controlled military would mark another historic accomplishment. Second, the constitution needs to be finalized and passed. It was shelved in March by lawmakers unable to compromise. Voters must demand universal suffrage and a slate of basic rights. In this way Egypt can take its first steps toward a democratic future.
Quick, what’s on the cover of this issue of America? No peeking. Can you remember? Don’t worry if you can’t. Chances are it’s our fault. We need to be sexy and provocative, we are told, and that starts with the cover. You should remember what appears below our logo. You should want to tweet it, share it, like it. It should land us on the “Today” show, inspire comic riffs, maybe merit a mention on “The Colbert Report.” If it does not, then we have failed.
The newsweeklies show us the way. Newsweek put Barack Obama on the cover with a rainbow halo and called him “The First Gay President.” Time shows a young mother nursing a three-year-old child and asks, “Are You Mom Enough?” Each took off on Twitter, garnering tens of thousands of “mentions.” There were articles attached to these covers. At least we think so. There wasn’t much mention of them.
Understated no longer works. Forget about subtlety or wit. The point is to shock. Even the estimable New Yorker knows it is time for change. Think of the cover depicting President and Mrs. Obama standing with machine guns in the Oval Office, celebrating with a fist bump. You can’t blame the magazine for trying. How else are publishers to drive traffic, improve analytics, trend on Twitter? Words don’t sell; pictures do.
It is time for Catholic magazines to get in the game. No more pictures of war-torn regions or parishioners sitting meekly in the pews. We need to get younger, more attractive, less depressing. Editing articles can wait; it’s the cover that counts. Time to boot up Photoshop and have some fun.
Too Much Talk
Unplanned teen pregnancies have long been associated with poor educational and economic outcomes, but a new study suggests that social welfare specialists across the political spectrum may have gotten the matter precisely backwards. Teens do not become poor because they become pregnant; they become pregnant because they are poor.
Research published in the spring issue of the Journal of Economic Perspectives indicates that the cultural histrionics over the “right” kind of sex education for young people—whether to emphasize abstinence or instruction in artificial birth control—is misplaced. It turns out that behavioral instruction has a limited impact on the trajectory of teen mothers. The social outcomes for teens who became pregnant but miscarried compared with those who kept their babies were essentially the same: Poverty begets poverty. Responding to the problem of teen pregnancy requires a much larger creative and practical public commitment.
Teens have to be able to imagine a future that is worth preparing themselves for. That means that more determined personal and educational interventions are required if teens are to truly break out of the cycle of poverty before they become unmarried parents. Young people do not need another abstinence or sex education seminar; they need a Cristo Rey or NativityMiguel school. If they do not see a practical way ahead out of poverty and hopelessness, they recognize all the lecturing on sexual mores for what it is: just talk.