Should the U.S. Give Up on Arab Democracy?

libya-free_1835951cThe unhappy results of what was once known optimistically as the “Arab Spring” have led many analysts to suggest that the United States should stop supporting democracy in the Arab world. It doesn’t work, the argument goes, and things end up worse rather than better. In this view, President Obama was right to dump the Bush “Freedom Agenda” because the end of the regimes in Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Tunisia has resulted only in violence and instability. Moreover, it is argued, US policies have offended many allies in the region.

But are these arguments correct? Can the United States be indifferent to the effort to build democracy in the Arab world? Are there ways for the United States to help those struggling for democracy, more effectively and at lower cost? the topic of the lecture is the current condition and future prospects of democracy in the Arab world, and the challenge this presents to American foreign policy.

Elliott Abrams is Senior Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, an adjunct in the Program for Jewish Civilization at Georgetown University and a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy.

12 noon – Lecture: Should the United States Give Up on Arab Democracy?”

Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and adjunct in the Program for Jewish Civilization

March 18, 2014 Georgetown University, Copley Hall, 37th and O Streets NW, Copley Formal Lounge, Washington, D.C.

CONTACT: 202-687-4328

Part of the Program for Jewish Civilization’s Spring 2014 Lecture Series.

Second Arab Awakening – a battle for pluralism

Despite the early promise of the Arab Spring, one transition after another has struggled or failed to produce governments that can respond to citizens’ longing for freedom and opportunity, says a leading analyst.

The fragility of the once-promising Arab transitions clearly shows the urgency of beginning the painstaking process of constructing an Arab world defined by pluralism and tolerance. Only then can what I call The Second Arab Awakening and the Battle for Pluralism be realized, the Carnegie Endowment’s Marwan Muasher writes:

If it is to succeed where the first Arab awakening failed, this Second Arab Awakening needs to be an assertion of universal values: democracy, pluralism, human rights. These are not ideals that can be imposed upon a region from outside, but they can be encouraged to grow. This requires patience and an accurate understanding of both the actual conditions and the kinds of actions that are likely to be effective. Only when societies and their elected leaders truly embrace tolerance, diversity, the peaceful rotation of power, and inclusive economic growth will the promise of a new Arab world be realized.

Given the grim news coming out of the region today, some will regard such arguments as naïve. But do not mistake the grim early skirmishes for the outcome, Muasher contends:

The battle of ideas has finally started to unfold in the contemporary Arab world and is far from ended. The region will go through a period of turmoil in which exclusionist forces will attempt to dominate the landscape with absolute truths and new dictatorships. In the end, however, these forces will also fade, because exclusionist, authoritarian discourses cannot answer the people’s need for a better quality of life –economically, politically, culturally, and otherwise.


Tunisia’s ‘most intelligent and workable basis for Arab constitutional democracy’

The emerging Tunisian constitution is profoundly encouraging on multiple fronts, especially equal rights, says Hussein Ibish, a Senior Fellow with the American Task Force on Palestine.

Tunisia’s political actors – including the Islamist Ennahda party – are in the process of adopting the most serious, fair, intelligent and workable basis for an Arab constitutional democracy in living memory, he writes for Lebanon Now:

Typically when contemporary Arab Islamists acknowledge religious freedom, at best they are talking about the right to follow whatever kind of Abrahamic monotheist (“heavenly religion”) one chooses. This reference to “freedom of… conscience” moves, or at least should move, religious freedom into the territory of real freedom of belief, including freedom to have no religion at all. 

Moreover, it’s been a consistent mistake of post-dictatorship Arab politics to form governments that don’t feel or act like interim authorities before having solid constitutions in place to protect the rights of individuals, minorities, women, and to ensure orderly transitions of power.