In deciding whether or how to promote democracy in the Middle East, and as it struggles with reconciling ideals and interests, the Obama administration should at least retain “perhaps the best available example of successfully integrating democracy promotion into U.S. foreign policy.”
The Middle East Partnership Initiative has “helped build a network of Arab democracy advocates and activists who welcome American democracy assistance, and created a positive ‘brand’ for U.S. democracy promotion,” according to Brookings’ analysts Tamara Wittes and Andrew Masloski. Supporting such actors is especially important, they contend, “because they are the main transmitters and translators of democratic ideas into their home societies.”
They argue against consolidating democracy assistance under USAID which, constrained by bilateral agreements with the region’s regimes and Washington-driven priorities, would militate against MEPI’s success in coordinating funding and diplomacy. USAID’s democracy and governance activities tend to be associated with large-scale, high-cost programs while the MEPI record demonstrates the virtues of investing in small-scale activities that reflect genuine, locally-driven needs and priorities:
The MEP programming that has arguably made the biggest difference to Arab democracy activists on the ground, and that has harmonized most strongly diplomacy and democracy assistance, has been the lowest-cost and the closest to the local level-the MEPI local grants.