The World According to Harvard – Part I






My colleague Richard Rosecrance (an occasional guest blogger here at Rising BRICSAM) has had an interesting recent debate with fellow Harvard colleague Stephen Walt.  The debate/discussion/dialogue – whatever?  ( Walt at Original Blog Post and  Response; Rosecrance’s Policy and Power posts  Original Response and Rebuttal) between these two well known IR scholars  has centered on two issues:  First. whether the EU has seen its best days already and whether the EU political Project is waning?; and then secondly whether the US needs to employ a balance of power strategy relying in part on the EU in order to constrain a growing rivalry in Asia with China.

Now the “World According to Harvard”, no matter which voices, always includes a large dollop of “grand strategy”.  These two Harvard colleagues don’t disappoint – lots of grand strategy.  Paring back some of the 30,000 foot language, however, Walt argues that Europe’s period of global influence is on the wane and more particularly – and he admits he may be wrong here – we’ve already seen the high water mark of European unity.  Walt suggests:

Today, European integration is threatened by (1) the lack of an external enemy, which removes a major incentive for deep cooperation, (2) the unwieldy nature of EU decision-making where 27 countries of very different sizes and wealth have to try to reach agreement by consensus, (3) the misguided decision to create a common currency, but without creating the political and economic institutions needed to support it, and (4) nationalism, which remains a powerful force throughout Europe and has been gathering steam in recent years.

While Walt then admits that these challenges may well force the EU member-states to come together, the behavior of the core actors France and Germany to date in their efforts to deal with the large and continuing debt crisis – Greece in particular – give little reason for optimism.  So Walt concludes – “Hence my belief that the heyday of European political integration is behind us.”

Now Dick Rosecrance will have none of it.  As he argues, the European Union is “the strongest economic unit on earth with a GDP larger that that of the United States.” This EU is not the Europe of the days of General De Gaulle.  And as he says in his response to Walt’s response (I hope this thread is not getting too confusing) the historical record:

…shows that far from declining, the EU overcomes its differences and continues increasing its GDP and military strength.  Steve is right that the EU is not going to become a “United States of Europe,” but it will likely evolve into a fiscal union because Germany and France remain committed to assisting weaker partners.  Further, the EU is expanding with five to ten would-be members waiting to join the enlarged Union, ultimately reinforcing NATO.

It is true that the European project has gone through periods of quiescence or lethargy only to be revived with a new accord – Maastricht or Lisbon.  But the European project through stealth has – it would seem to me – run it’s course and growing popular skepticism has replaced a facile “Europeanness” (see Andy Moravcsik at Princeton for deep analysis of European integration).  Here Walt’s rise of nationalist feeling in Europe is I think closer to the point.  European politicans have little appetite to propel the federalist project in the face of growing nationalist publics.  In the face of the sovereign debt crisis, European leaders have been unwilling to act boldly.  They certainly have been unwilling to take steps – EU bonds for example – that ramp up economic integration.  None other than former German foreign minister  and vice-chancellor Joschka Fischer raises the prospect of disintegration of the European project:

Slowly, word is getting round – even in Germany – that the financial crisis could destroy the European unification project in its entirety, because it demonstrates, quite relentlessly, the weaknesses of the eurozone and its construction.  Those weaknesses are less financial or economic than political.   … The euro, and the countries that adopted it, are now paying the price.  The eurozone now rests on the shaky basis of confederation of states that are committed both to a monetary union and to retaining fiscal sovereignty.  At a time of crisis, that cannot work.

So while Dick Rosecrance may be right that the EU in the face of this continuing debt crisis may evolve into a fiscal union I am not prepared to take a bet on it.  The past is no compass it seems to me in describing the future.

So if the EU is not likely to be the partner that Rosecrance is wishing for, what then of the US need to balance China and if so – with whom or what. Stayed tuned for Part II.

Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons


Is Bono MIA from the Gx Summits?

Among the diplomatic steps of the recent G8 summit held in Deauville, France last week (May 26-27) a significant gap in participation went unnoticed by media – the absence of Bono.

This celebrity blogger has attended a few G8s in my days and I appreciate the buzz the U2 lead singer received in the past when he attended a G8. At the Heiligendamm G8 in Germany in June 2007 Bono was everywhere.  He participated at a packed press conference with Bob Geldof and Kumi Naidoo from CIVICUS the umbrella civil society organization. He gave interviews with the BBC and other media. Finally he took centre stage at the Voice Against Poverty rock concert in Rostock.

Nor was Bono alone. With him came a large and skilled entourage of advisors from his organization ONE and other NGOs such as Oxfam.

And if you believe that Bono is only on the margins of the G8 think again. Unlike many of the G8 leaders, Bono gained a personal meeting with then US president George W. Bush (on top of earlier meetings UK prime minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Angela Merkel). What impressed observers – including this celebrity blogger was how seamlessly Bono moved from being an outsider at the G8 to obtaining an insider status and then moved to become an outsider again.

The puzzle of his absence is accentuated by the fact that Bono has had close interaction with Carla Bruni, the wife of President Sarkozy who served as the host of the French G8.. Is it simply because he wants to return to the celebrity game without any diplomatic role attached? For in a strange staged juxtaposition Bono appeared not in Deauville but on the finale of American Idol in the same week a show he said he found “exciting” because it brought him to “the centre of pop culture.”

Before worrying that Bono had indeed grown fatigued by activism, worn down by constant lobbying and exposure to politicians though it is worth noticing how Bono and ONE are re-positioning away from the G8 and towards the G20.  It seems that Bono has decided that G20 is the place to be: increasingly the hub of economic diplomacy due to the inclusion of the BRICS and other big emerging states including Mexico which will host the G20 after France.

In what this celebrity blogger regards as a significant activity – more important than even American Idol even – Bono met with President Calderon of Mexico on May 11 just weeks before the G8 to ask him to make the fight against poverty central to the G20 agenda.   Speaking after the meeting, Bono said: “Next year Mexico will chair the G20, the annual get together of the most powerful leaders on the planet. Obama, Hu Jintao, Sarkozy, Angela Merkel, Jacob Zuma, Dilma Rouseff, they’ll all be flying in.  By the time they fly out, we want them to have agreed specific decisions, which we know will save and transform lives in the poorest parts of the world.  As the host, President Calderon will set the agenda.  I asked him to persuade the G20 to take bold action on the fight against corruption globally, on improving healthcare, and on boosting agriculture around the world.

And to accent the fact that this was a strategic choice, ONE’s organizational capacity moved into high gear as well. Oliver Buston who did a lot of the work behind the scenes for the Heiligendamm G8 has now become ONE’s Central and South America Director.

Far from being a sign of fatigue, Bono’s choice of appearance sends a signal about the shift in the global calculus of power. Although absent from the Deauville G8, he has not gone missing in action. Bono has simply changed summits.  It is the G20 now.

One Conspiracy Theory Too Many

These last few weeks have seen more than one fall from grace for prominent men. There is a serious competition for who has fallen the fastest! Under normal circumstances ex-California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger would grab the prize. In a unique script, Maria Shriver went on the Oprah show to tell her side of the drama  – a story worthy of a Jackie Collins novel.

Yet, having been in Paris for the last few days, the Schwarzenegger story is totally overwhelmed by the Dominique Strauss-Kahn or DSK story.  This is a scandal that reverberates well beyond just the $3000 hotel room in NYC:  serious implications for the running of the IMF; the spillover of the debt crisis in Greece and other European countries; and the impact of one of the scandals on presidential politics in France.

The DSK story can be framed as an elite controversy, complete with a supportive wife (Anne Sinclair) who is a celebrity in France in her own right. But the controversy also reveals societal attitudes: whether described as an accusative or abuse of power theme; or a defensive – “he was framed by some unknown forces” – theme.

But in Europe these serious moral missteps have a competitor. This is the scandal of a Manchester United player who reputedly not only had an affair with a minor celebrity but tried to have his lawyers gag the UK media from publishing the allegations, only to be ‘outed’ by thousands of Twitter feeds – an interesting twist itself given the attention supposedly of the G8 on the Internet.

The magnitude of this story is enlarged by the fact that Manchester United is playing in the Champions League Final this weekend against Barcelona. What jumps out for this Celebrity blogger is the fundamental difference between the two teams in terms of image projection. Before turning to AON in 2009 – a large insurance company – Manchester United was sponsored by AIG – another large insurance company and one the biggest ‘stars’ of the 2008 financial crisis.

Barcelona by contrast has UNICEF on the team jersey. This has led to some jibes by other teams about the advantages of this ‘good guy’ status – an attitude most recently expressed by the Real Madrid manager Jose Mourinho’s – who alleged that the UNICEF sponsorship led the European football association to favor Barcelona.  This conspiracy view (no less that in the DSK case) appears to this Celebrity blogger as rather ridiculous! Support for a UN organization and worthy causes should be applauded. However, even Barcelona may suffer a fall from grace as its sponsorship by UNICEF runs out next year.

Looking for Just the Right Royal Charity

Two major events confirm the star power of the British Royal Family. The first, of course, was the glamorous wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton (with major support from Prince Harry and Pippa, Kate’s younger sister), an event that is still powering the output of the global soft media. The second event is upcoming.  This is first state visit by a serving British monarch to Ireland since independence in 1921. As one noted professor of Irish history told the Financial Times, the image of the Royals is no long that of an agent of coercive but celebrity power: “My students don’t associate the monarchy with the Northern Island Troubles, they think of the royal family as pop stars.”

Yet, despite this apparent transformed image of the Royal Family, it is interesting to see how connected with state institutions are many of the philanthropic interests of even these younger generation of Royals. The list of charities Will and Kate identified for possible donations in the context of their wedding included: Combat Stress, Bereavement Care for Children of Forces’ Families, Household Cavalry Benevolent Fund, Irish Guards Appeal, Army Widows Association, and the Royal Air Force Benevolent Fund. Harry, William’s younger brother is well known for his support of Help For Heroes, a charity aimed at helping injured service personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Yet the extended list reveals the hybrid nature of the young Royals concerns –  a mix that demonstrates very strongly the fact that they are influenced not only by state interests but also by the non-conformist interests made so identifiable by their mother – Princess Dianna.

After her divorce from Prince Charles, Princess Di’s aim was to become a roving goodwill ambassador for Britain – a role she played on a few well-publicized trips to Argentina (1995) and Pakistan (1996). However, the conservative establishment was never going to allow Diana to perform in this fashion, fearing that she would act as a “loose cannon”.

Shut out of official diplomacy, Princess Diana found the perfect role for herself on the anti-personnel landmines campaign working with the Red Cross and the HALO Trust. The 1997 pictures of Princess Diana on the front lines of this campaign in Angola serve as an iconic moment in celebrity diplomacy.

Prince Harry lists the HALO Trust as one of the charities he supports. William follows in his mother’s footsteps in a number of causes, including taking on the position as the Patron of Centrepoint, the UK’s leading homelessness charity.

The big question that this guest blogger asks is whether the young Royals can achieve a balance between their state connected activities and a more diverse community-oriented form of engagement? Or, will the Royals be unable to maintain a reasonable balance?

Given the extent of the star power of the Royals, the trajectory of their choices will have a decided spillover effect into the wider world of celebrity activism.

Lost in the Global South

Your fearless Celebrity Blogger has a new book out on internet gambling entitled Internet Gambling Offshore: Caribbean Struggles over Casino Capitalism World of Celebrities (Palgrave Macmillan IPE series). The main idea of the  book is how Antigua- a state of 70,000 people – took on the US in a protracted fight at the World Trade Organization over the future of this ascendant cyber-business.  Without the resources of a big country Antigua demonstrated an unanticipated amount of creative diplomatic ingenuity taking on the US, harnessing the power of key (mostly American) entrepreneurs who saw internet gambling as a real start up opportunity.  In doing so Antigua gained both cult-status and notoriety.

Beyond the details of this fascinating study, the Antigua challenge raises the question whether in a world of accelerated globalization – and in many ways significant homogenization – can small states nevertheless produce recognized celebrity activists that can play on the global stage?

If speaking English is one necessary ingredient, then countries from the Anglophone Caribbean possess a built-in advantage. But there does not appear to be these days anything like a Bob Marley – a native of Jamaica – but a huge global celebrity.  As mentioned in earlier blog posts, the only one who can claim something close to a Marley status today is Wyclef Jean.  But Wyclef was raised in the US and has long lived there.  And this has influenced the career of Wyclef.

One explanation for the lack of celebrity from the global South is simply that celebrities from small countries – especially in the global South – fly under the radar. Cricket or football/soccer stars (or even ex stars, as exhibited by the number who are in the adverts especially for mobile phone companies!) can be huge in a Caribbean island but still hold no name recognition in North America.

Another explanation is that the hybrid nature of many of these celebrities in the  diaspora doesn’t translate into a fixed identity. Wyclef himself ran into this problem when he was barred from running for president in Haiti because he had not lived there for many years. But equally North American audiences don’t see Rihanna as being from Barbados, even though she was appointed as a Culture and Youth ambassador. Among Bajans, this appointment attracted equal degrees of cult status but also stigmatization.

The final explanation is a more commercial and economic one. Having ‘made it’, many stars from small – or for that matter big – countries in the global South are unwilling to divert themselves from material success. As we have seen from the past St Barts parties of the Gaddafi family many celebrities, including Beyoncé, Usher and Mariah Carey have little awareness of political events or personalities – as long as they get paid.

Notwithstanding these constraints the reach of celebrity activism can extend to small countries. If Bono (and Bjork from another small island, Iceland) can combine to achieve a global reach, a hybrid identity, and an association with specific causes, there is no question that other celebrities whether from small island states or from the global South can reach cult status. If Bob Marley transformed musical culture there is hope for others to do the same whether from the global South or not.

How Wide Spread the “Bad Boy” Behavior – The Case of Charlie Sheen

It is hard to ignore Charlie Sheen and his ‘bad boy’ tour even if his basic image is far removed from celebrity activism.

The nature of Charlie’s engagement contrasts rather markedly even with other members of the Sheen family. How could such an authentic and sustained celebrity activist such as Martin Sheen pass on so few of those characteristics to his son? Does this evident divergence of behavior signal a generational split making the issue more sociological rather than psychological?

Just as a reminder to those who do not follow this side of celebrity life so closely, Martin Sheen, Charlie’s father, has a long history of support for the disadvantaged –  from US Latino farm workers to under-paid hotel staff.  Martin Sheen also has lent support for a myriad environmental causes and he was an open opponent to the Iraqi war.

Charlie Sheen to his credit has supported various AIDS campaigns but is best known for his conspiracy-oriented views of 9/11, even going so far as to suggest that the Bush administration may have been responsible for the attacks.

So some fathers have to expect the unexpected in the way of their children’s public behavior!

On another theme, does “bad” celebrity activist behavior alter the public image of celebrities generally? If Charlie Sheen is constantly erratic, do we expect various aspects his “bad” behavior to be displayed by other celebrities?  Just to give one illustration, do we expect Madonna’s efforts to build schools through her foundation  in Malawi to end in disaster, or did we still expect a positive outcome?  Is it a good idea to use Ginger Spice as a UN goodwill ambassador or should we fear bad celebrity behavior?

Although a number of celebrities appear to be “disasters waiting to happen” others can surprise us. Bob Geldof has come a long way since his bad boy days with the Boomtown Rats. Sean Penn, best known for meeting Saddam Hussein in December 2002, has become deeply engaged – and apparently quite effective – in the Haiti relief efforts.

Is there hope for Charlie Sheen, then? Most probably not! This probably about personality.  But nothing in celebrity activism is clear-cut. Sean Penn invited Charlie Sheen to visit Haiti in March 2011, and Charlie responded by telling Access Hollywood: “I’m excited as hell because, you know, if I can bring the attention of the world down there, then clearly this tsunami keeps cresting.”

So who knows!

Operating on the Front Lines

There is lot going on in the world of celebrity activism.  I hardly know where to start.  However one episode in the midst of the Libya crisis rises to the top of my celebrity blogger list. The Libyan “humanitarian intervention” helps to tease out a major puzzle about the engagement by celebrities in world affairs. The puzzle – how does the profile and projection of celebrities from the world of entertainment differ from the profile given to public intellectuals?

As I have noted in previous posts one of the fundamental shifts in celebrity activism has been on the level of intensity. As opposed to simply becoming the recognizable name and face spokespeople for particular causes, select celebrities have moved to the front lines. This trend stands out among the celebrities I have profiled up to now: Angelina Jolie, George Clooney, Mia Farrow and Bono and Bob Geldof. But this approach is evident for a wider celebrity group including Richard Gere, Bianca Jagger and others.

Adding to the intensity is the willingness of celebrities to make normative judgments of right and wrong in conflicts. Attempts to name and shame have become a tool in the repertoire of growing celebrity activism.

Given this contextual what then is to be made of the story of a well-known French public intellectual – Bernard Henry Lévy (or BHL to audiences in France and beyond) who recently conducted a secret mission for President Sarkzoy.  His mission – make contact with Libyan rebels. One way of interpreting this mission is to view it as an updated version celebrity diplomacy – the mobilization by states of public intellectuals for ‘ambassadorial’ roles.  This traditional celebrity diplomacy goes back to the 18th century with the appointment of Benjamin Franklin to represent the US at the court of France.

Another way of looking at the BHL episode is to relate it to a a competitive dynamic between public intellectuals and celebrity activists. As Bono, Angelina and George Clooney have grabbed attention for the intensity of engagement on select global issues, public intellectuals have been relegated to armchair experts. Worse for these public intellectuals there is the added dilemma that a good number of these experts clearly got it wrong on big issues.  The most notable “wrong view” was the support provided by many liberal as well as conservative public intellectuals for the 2003 Iraq invasion.

The BHL mission suggests, however, that public intellectuals can get out of their armchairs and operate on the front lines of international crises. Although a number of celebrity activists have made a impact by flirting with danger, including Princess Diana’s famous trip to the anti-personnel land mine fields of Angola, few narratives have the verve of BHL’s top-secret mission. How can you compete with a commandeered vegetable truck racing across the desert to rendezvous with the rebels fighting the Gaddafi regime (James Crabtree, ‘Philosophes sans frontieres as Plato battles Nato’, Financial Times, April 2/3, 2011).

The big question remaining, however, is whether this BHL intervention will represent a “high wire” solo act; or alternatively will secret mission become iconic leading to various  copycat actions by public intellectuals.

The ‘Robin Hood’ Venture – Who is Stealing from Whom?

The Oscar’s are coming up so it is a good moment to delve into a few areas of celebrity activism. One of the most interesting competitions this year at the Oscar’s is for the Best Documentary category – what a change that is.   Well, anyway, among the strong group of short listed films is the scathing critique directed and by Charles Ferguson of the recent global financial crisis –  Inside Job.

Although narrated by Matt Damon, the ‘stars’ of the documentary come not from the world of Hollywood but from finance – the titans of Wall Street – with supporting roles from policy-makers – the folks in Washington – and a number of under performing economists. Among the big questions this documentary triggers is whether we can depict non-entertainers as celebrities?

In the case of business celebrity status is accorded to those who not only make massive amounts of money but who also give some of that money back the Ted Turner, George Soros, Bill Gates and Warren Buffett’s of the world.

How do the stars of Inside Job such as the leading lights of Goldman Sachs do according to this test? Some ex-Goldman Sachs have certainly tried to make the shift to this status. In the same week I saw Inside Job, The Financial Times accorded the ‘How to give it’ to Larry Linden, a retired (2008) general partner and managing director of Goldman Sachs. Linden maintains that Goldman Sachs ‘has a longstanding charitable tradition, which continues. For example in 2004 Linden acquired 840,000 acres of pristine forest in Tierra del Fuego as collateral on a package of distressed debt. Linden was asked back to the firm to arrange management and funding to conserve this forest permanently’.

I will leave it you to determine whether such action shifts the impression of Inside Job of Goldman Sachs from notoriety to celebrity.

But what this example suggests is that such organizations and their personnel may require a closer assessment about the philanthropic efforts. Before the crisis there ware laudatory stories of Hank Paulson, the former US Treasury Secretary and head of Goldman Sachs, preparing to give the bulk of his fortune (then estimated as $800 million) to environmental charities. Where does this promise stand now?

Even if the extremely negative depiction of Goldman Sachs in Inside Job is unfair, however, other executives of this firm and their counterparts should get better advice about the names of the charitable Foundations they support. The best or worst illustration of this image disconnect is the participation of Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs (along with Dick Fuld formerly of Lehman Bros.) in the Robin Hood Foundation, an organization designed to target poverty in New York City.

After watching Inside Job, many viewers may come away feeling that any association of these financiers with a narrative of ‘robbing from the rich to give to the poor’ should be reversed. At least it looks like that from screening this documentary.

You Can’t Go Home!

The events in Egypt continue to resonate with celebrity politics.  Reflecting on my last blog post on the state hold on celebrities  it is useful to focus briefly on Mrs. Mubarak.  A number of Wikileaks about her role show her involvement in Egyptian politics.  Far from being content in playing a symbolic role as First Lady, Mrs. Mubarak was interpreted by a number of US diplomats to have played a major political role in trying to assure a dynastic succession to Gamal, the Mubaraks’ son.

But let me shift the focus in this blog post from the old regime to more future oriented scenarios. In particular I view the events in Egypt as opening up the puzzle once again:  can celebrities go home again?

To suggest that an individual such as Mohamed ElBaradei is a celebrity runs into all sort of thorny definitional questions. But he did gain a measure of fame from winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 for his work as director of the UN nuclear agency. These achievements put him in a different category than those who gain celebrity status only by some form of support to a cause.

Yet, in some ways the question of whether or not a notable such as ElBaradei can go home again echoes other circumstances from the world of entertainment and sports. Although the list is likely longer, those I put at the top of the cluster of those celebrities away from their home are: Wyclef Jean, George Weah and Imran Khan.

All of these individuals received some measure of kudos as long as they concentrated their attention on non-political activities. Wyclef Jean used the fame he achieved as a member of the Fugees as a platform to build the Yéle Haiti Foundation. George Weah a star footballer became a UNICEF goodwill ambassador and an advocate for youth in his home country of Liberia. Imran Khan moved from being an iconic cricketer to an activist, starting a charitable foundation in Pakistan bearing the name of his mother and serving as a UNICEF special representative for sports.

Moving from social activism to success as an elected national political leader however seems to be a ‘bar too high’. George Weah lost the Liberian presidency in a run-off with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Imran Khan had a disappointing career as a politician. And Wyclef has been barred from running for the presidency in Haiti for not meeting the residency requirements.

These failures can all be put down to problems attached to these individuals – whether opportunism or lack of organizational prowess. Yet their lack of success also reveals how difficult it is for celebrities – whether defined by ascription or achievement – to go back home.

Such a bar, although not the only constraint in the case of ElBaradei, offers an insight into how difficult it will be for him to emerge as a political actor in the new Egypt.

Breaking the Egyptian State’s Grip on Celebrities

The main focus on the events in Egypt has been on the mass gathering of demonstrators in Tahrir Square in Cairo.  These demonstrators became the media heart of the protests against the Mubarak regime. Yet as in other areas I have looked at the role (or non-role) of celebrity activists is salient as a lens focused on the intersection of politics and culture.

One thematic issue that emerges from such an enquiry is the differing levels of activism between older and younger celebrities. A major older celebrity is Omar Sharif the Oscar winning star of Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago and other movies. What is striking in his comments is his desire for both change and stability. On the one hand, he says that President Hosni Mubarak should have resigned. ‘Given that the entire Egyptian people don’t want him and he’s been in power for 30 years, that’s enough’. And he added: “The president hasn’t improved the standard of living of Egyptians. There are some people that are very rich — maybe 1 percent — and the rest are all poor trying to find food.”

Yet he expresses concern over moving beyond the Mubarak era. As he told AP: “I personally don’t know what they [anti-Mubarak forces] will do afterwards. Who will they bring, who will take his place, who will be in charge of the country?” This fear was magnified if it turns out that the Muslim Brotherhood gains from the exit of Mubarak leaves. “They [the Muslim Brotherhood] were trapped and now are starting to come out. They have 20 percent of the population, and it’s frightening for me.”

This cautious on the one hand and on the other hand attitude can be contrasted to the enthusiastic anti-Mubarak views of young celebrity protestors, some of whom have gained prominence in other countries. A case in point is Khalid Abdullah described by the BBC who repeatedly interviewed him as a ‘British-Egyptian’ actor (the Kite Runner is his best known film, and he was honored at the 2010 Cairo film festival) who rather than looking down at ‘Liberation Square’ like Sharif is actually in the square. Besides Abdullah’s distinctive characteristics his role also raises the question of whether celebrity activists who have gained some measure of fame abroad can go home again – a theme that I will return to next week.

If the shifting agency of celebrity activism needs to be looked at further however so must the embedded context in which celebrities have had to operate in Egypt. What jumps out is the tight grip of the state. As I have pointed out in earlier blog posts a wide number of Egyptian celebrities dating back to Umm Kulthum in the 1960s have been mobilized for the interests of the state.

What is different about Egypt under Mubarak is the personal nature of this grip. Rather than just promoting celebrities because they adhere to the interests of the state, Mubarak’s family members have taken on the role of celebrity activists. The best – or worst – illustration of this phenomenon is the endorsement of Suzanne Mubarak, the wife of Egyptian president as a goodwill ambassador for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization.

The Egyptian first lady may be committed to good causes, as other individuals in this role are. Indeed, she has won a number of awards for he work. Yet, in witnessing the pent up demand for change I can’t escape the conclusion that having her as a goodwill ambassador is just one more indicator about how pervasive the hold of the Mubarak regime on Egypt has been.

As in other parts of the world, a healthier format would be to have prominent celebrities – with no state links – exclusively appointed to this role, especially from the younger generation of activists.