Ikhwanweb :: The Muslim Brotherhood Official English Website

Thu93 2020

Last update18:06 PM GMT

Back to Homepage
Font Size : 12 point 14 point 16 point 18 point
:: Issues > Activites
How democracy loses its footing in Middle East
How democracy loses its footing in Middle East
I found myself chatting some time ago with Theresa Loar, who ran the State Department’s women’s office, when she told me about how she had tricked other senior officials in the building.
Tuesday, February 3,2009 04:57
by Joel Brinkley*, sentinelsource.com

I found myself chatting some time ago with Theresa Loar, who ran the State Department"s women"s office, when she told me about how she had tricked other senior officials in the building.

This was during the Clinton administration, and she was trying to persuade them to attend a meeting on an issue they weren"t likely to care about. "So I told them we were going to talk about democracy promotion - the department"s evergreen issue."

As Loar noted, promoting democracy has been a foreign-policy priority for decades - since long before former President George W. Bush soiled the brand. President Obama has said he intends to increase funding to agencies involved in democracy promotion because, as he put it last year, "we benefit from the expansion of democracy. Democracies are our best trading partners, our most valuable allies and the nations with which we share our deepest values."

But then comes the thorny question: What about democracy promotion in the Middle East - easily the most repressive region in the world and, arguably, the most important? The recent history is not encouraging.

The Egyptians staged elections, and the Muslim brotherhood won 88 seats in parliament.

The Palestinians staged elections, and Hamas won. The Lebanese staged elections, and then Hezbollah managed to force the elected government to give it veto power over its decisions.

And there"s more.

While working in Cairo last summer, I interviewed several leaders of Kefaya, a small citizens group calling for democratic change. The Egyptian government has arrested and harassed its members. These leaders decried the government"s repressive policies and said all the right things to an American visitor. In fact, they sounded almost like Jeffersonian democrats. Then, when I headed out the door, they handed me a sheaf of papers.

I filed them away, but when I finally managed to read them, I was shocked. These people were well-educated, English-speaking, seemingly Western-oriented Egyptians.

And yet, their literature frothed with invective about the "Zionist lobby" and its "odious assault on Arab native soul." The United States and the world"s Jews "are two sides of the same coin, each nourishing the other, and neither curable alone."

Even liberal democrats are besotted with angry, racist prejudice - and worse. Do we want these people governing Egypt? Does the Obama administration really want to promote democracy in the Middle East?

By most accounts, Obama is not going to make the same mistakes Bush made. To the Bush administration, promoting democracy meant encouraging, even forcing, nations to hold elections. That"s what happened in Egypt and the Palestinian territories.

But democracy cannot flourish in nations that have no middle class - and no history of free political discussion.

In those places, the church, or mosque, offers the most accessible shelter and organizing philosophy. Because almost no one else can speak out publicly, the clerics" views, radical or moderate, become the most important political voices in the land.

A society that can embrace democracy is one whose citizens have something they want to protect. Democracy promotion, then, should involve economic development - and with it greater social freedoms, such as freedom of speech, assembly and the press.

Egypt has none of that.

But remember, the United States gives Egypt $2 billion a year, the legacy of a deal struck during the Camp David negotiations with Israel in 1978. Why couldn"t the Obama administration condition that aid? Why couldn"t Washington insist on greater freedom of speech this year, greater freedom of the press next year?

In truth, for Egypt, like many autocratic countries, those two steps alone probably would begin moving the country in the right direction.

Why hasn"t Washington done this before? Arabists in the State Department will tell you: We need Egypt to help solve the Gaza problem, to help us pressure Iran. We need Egypt to support us in the war on terror.

Persuading Egypt and other states to offer more political freedoms will, in fact, deal a blow to terrorists. As Tamara Cofman Wittes writes in her book "Freedom"s Unsteady March: America"s Role in Building Arab Democracy," granting political freedoms will "increase the ability of Arab societies to debate, test and, it is hoped, reject the claims of the radical Islamic movement."

I have no doubt that democracy promotion will be an important part of Obama"s foreign policy.

But let"s hope that, unlike his predecessors, he has the fortitude to confront Arab dictators and persuade them to begin taking small steps.

Creating democracies in the Middle East is a generational project. But it will never begin unless we take the first steps now.

Joel Brinkley is a professor of journalism at Stanford University and a former foreign policy correspondent for the New York Times. To comment to him, e-mail [email protected]. To comment, e-mail us at [email protected].

Posted in Activites , Human Rights  
Related Articles
How small steps can pave the way to democracy in the Middle East
Digital Democracy in Chile and Egypt
Democracy ‘normalizes’ Islamists?
Democracy in Palestine
Promoting democracy, not regime change
The Case for Democracy Promotion
A New Wave of Democracy
New Canadian democracy assistance agency on the way
Democracy Promotion in U.S. Foreign Policy
Should liberals promote liberal democracy?
Obama’s win promotes democracy in Arab world
‘Seismic’ economic shifts challenging democracy assistance
Re: The False Hope of Democracy Promotion
Islamist Parties and Democracy: Going Back to the Origins
Major Challenge to Arab Democracy
Funding GONGOs against democracy
Rare Victory for Muslim Democracy
Democracy assistance - what works?
Economic crisis could turn democracy’s stagnation into retreat, report warns
Democracy in Egypt, One Text and Twitter at a Time
Demanding Arab democracy
Syrian democracy activists face 15 years in prison
American Islamic Congress Hosts Capitol Hill Forum on Democracy and the Future of HR in Egypt
Religion and Democracy in the Middle East: A New Generation of the Muslim Brotherhood
Islam and Democracy
Islam and Democracy
Arab democracy needs ‘Islamist revision’
Democracy vs. Terrorism: A Reality Check
The Mirage of Arab Democracy
’Islamists edge towards democracy’
Is the EU serious about democracy in Jordan?
Democracy assistance still on the agenda
Democracy assistance - new world, new challenges
Democracy halted in Arab World, says Gulf debating forum
Morsi: Democracy Conforms To Islamic Shura
Democracy in Egypt
Islamist Parties and Democracy: Three Kinds of Movements