For decades, Arab regimes have used scare tactics to encourage the United States and Europe to support their repressive measures toward Islamist movements by invoking the image of anti-Western fanatics taking power through the ballot box. However, today’s moderate Islamists no longer match this nightmare.
In the last few years, Arab liberals have been gradually reaching out to moderate Islamists and engaging them in campaigns calling for reforms. These are steps in the right direction and the U.S. and Europe should learn from this example. The cause of political transformation in the region is best served by bringing in Islamist movements and their popular constituencies.
Talking to the Muslim Brotherhood and other mainstream Islamist organizations should be a central, ongoing task for American diplomats in the Middle East. It would do more to restore the tarnished image of the United States in the Arab world than any public diplomacy initiative launched so far.
In a startling development this month, the Egyptian Judges Club decided to boycott their constitutionally mandated role of supervising upcoming elections. Is the Egyptian judiciary on a quest to transform Mubarak’s regime? Rather than a bold move toward regime change, this is a calibrated confrontation with narrower aims: to secure judicial reform and support electoral reform.
The path to Arab democracy continues to be problematic. A close look at the contemporary regional political scene reveals that the predominantly missing element—when compared with more successful experiences of political transformation elsewhere—is the emergence of democratic opposition movements with broad constituencies that can contest authoritarian power and force concessions.
Mass demonstrations in Lebanon, joint protest rallies of Egyptian Islamists and liberals against the Mubarak regime in Egypt, and municipal elections in Saudi Arabia are just as much features of the current situation as are cease-fire declarations by Palestinian resistance movements and multiparty negotiations for forming a coalition government in Iraq.
The essential ingredient the Arab spring is not what occurred in the White House. It is, instead, what occurred on the streets of Ramallah, Cairo and Beirut.
Recent events in Egypt are again proving that far from championing democratic reforms, the Egyptian government continues to consolidate its own power. The January 29, 2005, arrest of Ayman Nour, a member of the Egyptian People’s Assembly and leader of the newly legalized liberal political party, Al Ghad (Tomorrow), serves as yet another example of Egypt’s persistent semiauthoritarianism.
To mobilize all of the international actors opposing Iranian nuclear development, the U.S. must recognize that Iranian proliferation, Persian Gulf security, the U.S. role in the Middle East, Israel’s nuclear status, and Palestinian-Israeli relations are all linked and cannot be resolved without a more balanced U.S. stance.