can do is to say, ‘ We are on the side of the
people. We are on the side of people deter-
mining their own fate. We are not going to
support authoritarian regimes simply
because they offer a semblance of security,
or a cheap flow of oil.’
I think it’s in the long-term interest of
the United States to have democratic gov-
ernments in the Middle East. In the short
term, there might be bumps, but in the
long run, the interests of those people in
the Middle East and of the United States
can fully be obtained if there is democracy.
The worst thing the United States can
do is interfere in the domestic affairs of
these countries, think that it can determine their fates, think that it can import
democracy for them, think that it can
determine who should rule these countries. That will undermine the democrats
and undermine the democratic process.
‘The United States has no
credibility in the region.
Not because Arabs or Muslims
hate our freedoms. Precisely
because they embrace the
values that we claim to
uphold, but they see that our
behavior in the region does
not express those values.’
Creating incentives for these democracies
to really have growth and distribution in
MOULAY HICHAM: I second many of the
arguments Abbas advanced. I am almost
certain that these breakthroughs in these
countries would have not happened if . . .
there was democracy promotion á la Bush.
I am sure people would have been intimidated; people would have been insulted by
this hegemonic discourse. Part of the
result [can be attributed] to the fact that
the United States has taken a back seat.
It’s going to be a very tricky course. The
United States has to develop a discourse
as a diplomatic tool, but be honest about it.
That it really does stand for democratic
change in the region. But here comes a
challenge. It was easy with Tunisia, it was
easy with Egypt in the beginning, but it’s
going to be harder and harder as [the United States] is confronted with its interests.
As a democratically elected government revisits the policy of Egypt towards
Gaza . . . then it’s going to be hard. As
events happen in the Gulf and there’s a big
stake in oil, it’s going to be harder for the
United States to maintain that objectivity
and those general principles. Here is the
challenge: making the values conform with
Lastly, is the economic damage sustained in these countries. The basic needs
of the people are not being met. All democratic breakthroughs have a big test as economic hardships challenge whether the
democracy can deliver for its citizens.
Here, the United States can play a big role.
KHATIB: One of the worst scenarios is a
repeat of Iraq. What happened in Iraq was
a big blow to democracy progression in the
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region because it made the leaders in the
Arab world even more autocratic. They did
not want to face the same fate as Saddam.
It made the people less enthusiastic
about seeing the leaders go because nobody
wanted to see the kind of chaos that happened in Iraq in their own country.
I think the United States has learned that
lesson. The United States is now more forthcoming in strong statements about wanting
to support democracy; however, we are not
seeing this matched by policy. U.S. foreign
policy is still formulated on the basis of
shortsightedness. They supported several
autocratic regimes in the Arab world because
these regimes offer insulation from what
may happen tomorrow. They were not thinking about what the effect of having autocratic regimes will be on generations to come.
It is in the interest of the United States
to have these democracies, and these new
emerging democracies in the Arab world,
so far, don’t look like they want to isolate
themselves from the United States. They
are open to engage. The United States
has to prove itself credible by matching
values with actions.
BEININ: I think we all agree that one of the
very worst things the United States could
do would be to intervene militarily, and
even to intervene by approving military
interventions of other parties.
The United States policy makers need
to realize, and this is a bitter lesson that
I don’t think the Obama administration
has yet come to, that the United States has
no credibility in the region. Not because
Arabs or Muslims hate our freedoms. Precisely because they embrace the values
that we claim to uphold, but they see that
our behavior in the region does not express
those values. There is not very much that
the United States can do in the short term
to reverse that, in my opinion.
The single most important thing, in my
opinion, that the United States could do to
regain its credibility is pressure Israel to
resolve the Palestinian/Israeli conflict on
the basis of the international consensus.
MOULAY HICHAM: I’m not sure we can
assume that the end of authoritarianism
has come in these countries. In Egypt, there
are good signs, but I am very skeptical of
the intentions of the military during a transition. After all, they were the principal pillar of the regime, and just because the party
of Mubarak and the family of Mubarak
have been discredited doesn’t mean that
the bulwark of the system is not there.
Throughout the region, there will be
stalemates, there will be success stories,
there will be breakthroughs, and there will
be regressions, too. There will be instances
where some form of electoral democracies
will come but they will not deliver. This is
a long process. n