Leadership Council for Human Rights

~ Feet in the mud, head in the sky ~

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ibrahim calls on US to renew commitment to democracy in Middle East

In a speech today, Dr. Saad Ibrahim called on the United States to do more to support democracy in the Middle East. The presentation, “America’s Betrayal of Arab Democrats”, was hosted by the George Mason University Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. Ibrahim, a leading voice for democratic reform in Egypt and head of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo, argued that the US has backed off on its support of democracy in the Arab world of late because of the ascendance to power of Islamist groups like Hamas through free and open elections. According to Ibrahim, the growing status of groups like Hamas in Palestine and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has fed into post-9/11 “Islamophobia” and caused the Bush administration to curtail its efforts in the region.

Prior to the events of September 11th, the US had supported autocratic regimes in an attempt to maintain stability in the Middle East. However, post-9/11 sentiment dictated a heightened promotion of democracy so that the threat of hostile political dissidence would be lessened. To this end, in late 2001, the US began to seek out Arab interlocutors such as Ibrahim. By 2005, the push for democracy in the Arab world seemed to reach a new high as President Bush stressed in his Inaugural Address that the US would support those who stood up for freedom under tyrannical governments, and uprisings for free and fair elections took place throughout the Middle East. Additionally, there was evidence that the administrations in the region were beginning to change their tune. In Egypt, President Hosni Mubarak, who had previously called on Egyptians to stage election boycotts, signed a constitutional amendment guaranteeing the right to multi-party elections. In Kuwait, women were granted the right to vote. These were causes for hope, however, the Western support need to nurture this fledgling democratic movement is now lacking.

Ibrahim called on the US to renew its commitment in the Arab world and use its leverage to advance democratic reforms, as it did in the Eastern Bloc in the 1970’s with the Helsinki Accords. He also emphasized that the Bush administration should show moral and political clarity and seek to embolden those who support democratic ideals around the world by promoting the principle of democracy in the Middle East. According to Ibrahim, the current US policy only endorses democracy selectively as it befits the national interest, and this needs to change. The notion that Islamists who come to power through free elections will return their countries to autocracies is mistaken and baseless. Roughly two-thirds of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims are living under democratically-elected governments, and there have been no incidents of these administrations reneging on their commitments. Ibrahim would like the US to recognize the growing tide of democratic sentiment in the Middle East and work to maintain it by supporting all parties who come to power legitimately as a result, regardless of their affiliation.


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