Courtesy of Cornell University

Nancy Okail did a talk at Cornell discussing foreign policy and democracy.

March 14, 2023

Nancy Okail Discusses Foreign Policy, Democracy and Human Rights in North Africa

Print More

Nancy Okail, the president and CEO of the Center for International Policy, visited Cornell on Thursday to deliver a talk titled “Progress and Prospects for Democratization in North Africa.” 

Okail is a scholar, policy analyst and advocate with more than 20 years of experience working on issues of human rights, equity and peace in the Middle East and North Africa. In late 2011, Okail — along with 42 other defendants — was arrested in Egypt for allegedly operating non-governmental organizations without a license and receiving illegal foreign funds. She was exonerated in 2018.

During the talk, Okail described diversity issues within security policy leadership as well as the prioritization of domestic problems over international affairs.

“[There needs to be] change in the way we think and go about foreign policy,” Okail said. “There needs to be an understanding of why we reached this point of having dysfunction in foreign policy.”

Okail voiced a need for a paradigm shift in foreign policy to fix issues through a global perspective. As president of the CIP, a leading progressive organization for foreign policy in Washington, D.C., Okail works to reorient the United States foreign policy by promoting cooperation, transparency and accountability.

“If we continue to work within the system as it is, we would be doing patchwork to a system that is [at] best inadequate and would be contributing to perpetuating to the very system we want to change,” Okail said.

Okail said the resources that the United States has put into changing foreign policy legislation should be refocused onto understanding why current legislation is not working. 

“The conventional way Washington works is [that] an individual goes to a region [for] a couple of weeks to a month, asks questions and observes, and then, with the information, writes their own OPEC [a document on the policies they want to be implemented],” Okail said. “That’s not including the voices of the people.”

Specifically, Okail noted that the United States neglects to consider many strategic plans in international affairs, and instead chooses to focus mainly on international arms sales as the priority of foreign policy. Okail also emphasized the nation’s lack of regard toward how repressive governments will utilize additional weaponry.

“[The United States is] sending arms to countries that violate human rights and conduct any form of authoritarian repressive actions [as necessary],” Okail said.

According to Okail, by sending arms to authoritarian countries such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the United States is contributing to the oppression of citizens by authoritarian governments.

“How can we as a country in the United States help [solve the] global challenges we have, [by] thinking we can collaborate with countries that are corrupt and expect results?” Okail said.

Yamileth Alvarez Haro ’26 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected].