March 04, 2004

Be Careful What You Wish For Department

Washington's emphasis on democratizing the Middle East region is beginning to receive greater attention from local leaders. Not surprisingly, they are feeling somewhat threatened and are stressing that any reforms need to be home grown and not imposed from the outside. Relatedly, many Arab leaders wish to maintain the focus on the Arab-Israeli issue.

That said, there seems to be a bit of a divide opening up as between moderate Gulf states, as compared to Egypt or Syria, on how best to approach Washington's initiative:

"But the current debate within the Arab League is over to what extent the Arabs need to come up with a vision of their own to counter a proposal from Washington. "We must not reject something that we don't know about," Sheik Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, the foreign minister of Qatar, told reporters. "If this initiative contains positive points, we have to be associated with that, and if it contains negative aspects, we have to specify which ones." But larger states like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Syria have rejected any American intervention in the reform process."

As I've blogged before, the Europeans should likely become increasingly involved in this effort. And rather than stressing, say, regime change--an initial focus should be on economic liberalization, for instance.

Put differently, this process needs to be handled in sober fashion (please keep the neo-Wilsonian chest-beating under control) so as to best preserve the pursuit of the U.S. national interest.

What do I mean?

Well, note this part of Macfarquhar's article:

"Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Islamist group in Egypt, made a bold public demand Wednesday for change while also criticizing American interference, calling for reforms like limiting presidential terms, allowing political parties and ending the central role of the military in picking the country's rulers."

It's ironic. The U.S. spearheaded democraticization initiative already has dissident groups speaking up for reforms (Mubarak out!).

But, of course, their agenda is fervently anti-American.

For more on the potential pitfalls of an ill-handled democratization initiative go here.

Finally, note that it would help greatly if forward movement on the Arab-Israeli peace process be made, contemporaneously, as we pursue the democratization initiative. This would reduce the pool of malcontents willing to engage in radical jihadist-style adventures and go a long way towards debunking myths in the Arab world that the U.S. is seeking to impose some nefarious Zionist hegemony on the area.

Posted by Gregory at March 4, 2004 09:53 AM
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