• March 10, 2009

Open Letter to President Obama about Democracy Promotion in the Middle East and the Muslim World

Open Letter to President Obama about Democracy Promotion in the Middle East and the Muslim World


Dear Mr. President:


First of all, congratulations on your victory in November. Like so many others throughout the world, we find ourselves both hopeful and inspired. Your election is proof of America”s continued promise as a land of opportunity, equality, and freedom. Your presidency presents a historic opportunity to chart a new course in foreign affairs, and particularly in the troubled relationship between the United States and the Muslim world.


We are heartened by your promise to listen to and understand the hopes and aspirations of Arabs and Muslims. By shutting down Guantanamo Bay and forbidding torture, your administration will inspire greater confidence between the United States and the Muslim world. Last month, in your first major interview, millions of Arabs heard your call for mutual respect on one of the Middle East”s most watched television channels. They were encouraged to find that you hold a resolution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict as an urgent priority, as evidenced by the appointment of Senator George Mitchell as your envoy. Reaching out to the people of the region so early on in your presidency is a step of no small significance. But it is a step that must be followed by concrete policy changes.


Improving relations between the United States and Middle Eastern nations is not simply a matter of changing some policies here and there. For too long, U.S. policy toward the Middle East has been fundamentally misguided. The United States, for half a century, has frequently supported repressive regimes that routinely violate human rights, and that torture and imprison those who dare criticize them and prevent their citizens from participation in peaceful civic and political activities. U.S. support for Arab autocrats was supposed to serve U.S. national interests and regional stability. In reality, it produced a region increasingly tormented by rampant corruption, extremism, and instability.


In his second inaugural address, President Bush pledged that the United States would no longer support tyrants and would stand with those activists and reformers fighting for democratic change. The Bush administration, however, quickly turned its back on Middle East democracy after Islamist parties performed well in elections throughout the region. This not only hurt the credibility of the United States, dismayed democrats and emboldened extremists in the region, but also sent a powerful message to autocrats that they could reassert their power and crush the opposition with impunity.


In order to rebuild relations of mutual respect, it is critical that the United States be on the right side of history regarding the human, civil, and political rights of the peoples of the Middle East. There is no doubt that the people of the Middle East long for greater freedom and democracy; they have proven themselves willing to fight for it. What they need from your administration is a commitment to encourage political reform not through wars, threats, or imposition, but through peaceful policies that reward governments that take active and measurable steps towards genuine democratic reforms. Moreover, the US should not hesitate to speak out in condemnation when opposition activists are unjustly imprisoned in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, or elsewhere. When necessary, the United States should use its considerable economic and diplomatic leverage to put pressure on its allies in the region when they fail to meet basic standards of human rights.


We recognize that taking these steps will present both difficulties and dilemmas. Accordingly, bold action is needed today more than ever. For too long, American policy in the Middle East has been paralyzed by fear of Islamist parties coming to power. Some of these fears are both legitimate and understandable; many Islamists advocate illiberal policies. They need to do more to demonstrate their commitment to the rights of women and religious minorities, and their willingness to tolerate dissent. However, most mainstream Islamist groups in the region are nonviolent and respect the democratic process.


In many countries, including Turkey, Indonesia, and Morocco, the right to participate in reasonably credible and open elections has moderated Islamist parties and enhanced their commitment to democratic norms. We may not agree with what they have to say, but if we wish to both preach and practice democracy, it is simply impossible to exclude the largest opposition groups in the region from the democratic process. At the same time, to reduce the future of the region to a contest between Islamists and authoritarian regimes would be a mistake. Promoting democratic openings in the region will give liberal and secular parties a chance to establish themselves and communicate their ideas to the populace after decades of repression which left them weak and marginalized. More competition between parties of diverse ideological backgrounds would be healthy for political development in the region.


In short, we have an unprecedented opportunity to send a clear message to the Arab and Muslim world: the United States will support all those who strive for freedom, democracy, and human rights. You, Mr. President, have recently relayed such a message in your inaugural address when you said: “To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”


We are fully aware that, with a worsening global economic crisis, and continuing challenges in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, political reform and progress toward democratic reform in the Middle East will need to compete with a whole host of other priorities on your agenda. Policy is often about making difficult choices. However, as you work on other Middle East priorities, we urge you to elevate democratic reform and respect for human rights as key considerations in your engagement with both Arab regimes and Arab publics.


In conclusion, we are writing this letter to raise our profound belief that supporting democrats and democracy in the Middle East is not only in the region”s interests, but in the United States” as well. Perhaps more importantly, what we choose to do with this critical issue will reveal a great deal about the strength of American democratic ideals in this new era – and whether or not we will decide to respect and apply them in the Middle East.


Signatures: 144 (97 from the US, 47 from overseas) 


Coordination Committee:


Radwan A. Masmoudi


Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy


Shadi Hamid


Project on Middle East Democracy


Geneive Abdo


The Century Foundation


Larry Diamond


Ctr. on Democracy, Dev. & Rule of Law, Stanford University


Michele Dunne


Carnegie Endowment for Int. Peace


Jennifer Windsor


Freedom House


 


American Scholars, Experts & Organizations:


Tamara Cofman Wittes


Saban Center, Brookings Institution


Francis Fukuyama


The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies


Matt Yglesias


Center for American Progress


Mona Yacoubian


U.S. Institute of Peace


John L. Esposito


Georgetown University


Reza Aslan


UC Riverside


Morton H. Halperin


Formerly Office of Policy Planning, Department of State


Will Marshall


Progressive Policy Institute


Randa Slim


Rockefeller Brothers Fund


Neil Hicks


Human Rights First


Joe Stork


Human Rights Watch


Robert R. LaGamma


Council for a Community of Democracies


Jack DuVall


Int. Center on Nonviolent Conflict


Robert A. Pastor


Center for Democracy and Election Management, American University


Jean Bethke Elshtain


University of Chicago


Peter Beinart


Council on Foreign Relations


Bob Edgar


Common Cause


Rachel Kleinfeld


Truman National Security Project


Robert Kagan


Carnegie Endowment for Int. Peace


Dokhi Fassihian


Democracy Coalition Project


Dina Guirguis


Voices for a Democratic Egypt


Andrew Albertson


Project on Middle East Democracy


Nathan J. Brown


George Washington University


Marc Gopin


Ctr for World Religions, Diplomacy, & Conflict Resolution, GMU


Graham E. Fuller


Simon Fraser University, Vancouver BC.


Rabbi Michael Lerner


Network of Spiritual Progressives


Farid Senzai


Institute for Social Policy and Understanding


Frank Kaufmann


Inter Religious Federation for World Peace


Ammar Abdulhamid


Tharwa Foundation


Arsalan Iftikhar


Islamica Magazine


Richard Bulliet


Columbia University


Seth Green


Americans for Informed Democracy


Joseph Montville


Toward the Abrahamic Family Reunion


Joseph K. Grieboski


Institute on Religion and Public Policy


Jim Arkedis


Progressive Policy Institute


Asma Afsaruddin


University of Notre Dame


Anisa Mehdi


Arab-American Journalist


Mohammed Ayoob


Michigan State University


Peter Mandaville


Center for Global Studies, GMU


Omid Safi


University of North Carolina


Sulayman S. Nyang


Howard University


Naiem A. Sherbiny


Ibn Khaldun Ctr. for Development


Louay Safi


ISNA Leadership Development Ctr.


Najib Ghadbian


University of Arkansas


Aly R. Abuzaakouk


Libya Human and Political Dev. Forum


Robert D. Crane


The Abraham Federation


Sally Painter


Global Fairness Initiative


Steven Brooke


Independent Academic


Sheila Musaji


The American Muslim


Hashim El-Tinay


International Peace Quest Inst.


Antony T. Sullivan


Near East Support Services


Clement Moore Henry


Dept. of Government, U of Texas at Austin


Ahmed Subhy Mansour


The International Quranic Center


Yvonne Haddad


Georgetown University


Shahed Amanullah


altmuslim.com


Hakan Yavuz


The University of Utah


Ibrahim Kalin


Georgetown University


Mumtaz Ahmad


Hampton University


Charles Butterworth


University of Maryland


John P. Entelis


Fordham University


Nahyan Fancy


DePauw University


Jeffrey T. Kenney


DePauw University


Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad


Minaret of Freedom Institute


Jamal Barzinji


International Institute of Islamic Thought


H. Ali Yurtsever


Rumi Forum


Abubaker al Shingieti


American Muslims for Constructive Engagement


Nayereh Tohidi


California State University, Northridge


Nancy Gallagher


University of California, Santa Barbara


Safei Hamed


Alliance of Egyptian Americans


Ali Akbar Mahdi


Ohio Wesleyan University


Nader Hashemi


University of Denver


Timothy Samuel Shah


Council on Foreign Relations


Sondra Hale


Islamic Studies, UCLA


Lester Kurtz


George Mason University


Mehrdad Mashayekhi


Georgetown University


Fatemeh Haghighatjoo


University of Massachusetts, Boston


Salah Aziz


American Society for Kurds


Ali Banuazizi


Boston College


Mehrangiz Kar


Harvard University Human Rights Program


Tamara Sonn


College of William & Mary


Salam Al-Marayati


Muslim Public Affairs Council


Stephen Zunes


University of San Francisco


Mike Ghouse


World Muslim Congress


David A. Smith


University of California, Irvine


Ziad K. Abdelnour


US Committee for a Free Lebanon


Samer Libdeh


Center for Liberty in the Middle East


Javed Ali


Illume Magazine


Selahattin Oz


Georgetown University


Amin Mahmoud


The Alliance of Egyptian Americans


Maher Kharma


Islamic Society of Annapolis


 


International Scholars & Organizations:


Saad Eddin Ibrahim


Ibn Khaldoun Center


Anwar Ibrahim


People”s Justice Party, Malaysia


Emad El-Din Shahin


Dept. of Government, Harvard University


Radwan Ziadeh


Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Univ.


Atef Saadawy


Al-Ahram Democracy Review


Obaida Fares


Arab Foundation for Development and Citizenship


Mona Eltahawy


Commentator and public speaker, Egypt


Usman Bugaje


Action Congress, Abuja, Nigeria


Dogu Ergil


Ankara University, Turkey


Mohamed Elshinnawi


Journalist/Consultant


Mohammad Fadel


University of Toronto Faculty of Law


Jamal Eddine Ryane


Global Migration and Gender Network, Amsterdam


Najah Kadhim


International Forum for Islamic Dialogue-London-UK


Maajid Nawaz


The Quilliam Foundation, London, UK


Sameer Jarrah


Arab World Center for Democratic Development, Jordan


Ihsan Dagi


Insight Turkey


Santanina T. Rasul


Former Senator, The Philippines


Can Kurd


Kurdish PEN Club / Germany


Muna AbuSulayman


UNDP Goodwill Ambassador in KSA


Saoud El Mawla


The Islamic Council for Dialogue, Justice and Democracy, Lebanon


Amina Rasul-Bernardo


The Philippines Council on Islam & Democracy


Sayyed Nadeem Kazmi


The britslampartnership Ltd, UK


Muhammad Habash


Islamic Studies Center, Damascus, Syria


Boudjema Ghechir


Algerian League for Human Rights


Kais Jawad al-Azzawi


Al-Jareeda Newspaper, Baghdad, Iraq


Rola Dashti


Kuwait Economic Society


Zainah Anwar


Sisters in Islam, Malaysia


Jafar M. Alshayeb


Writer and Advocate, Saudi Arabia


Daoud Casewit


American Islamic Scholar, Morocco


Anwar N. Haddam


Mvt. for Liberty & Social Justice, Algeria


Ashur Shamis


Libya Human and Political Dev. Forum


Hamdi Abdelaziz


Journalist & Human Rights Activist, Egypt


Dalia Ziada


The American Islamic Congress, Cairo, Egypt


Abdulkhaleq Abdulla


Dept. of Political Science, United Arab Emirates


Wajeeha S. Al- Baharna


Bahrain Women Association for Human Development


Abdullahi Mohamoud Nur


Community Empowerment for Peace and Integrated Development, Somalia


Brendan Simms


The Henry Jackson Society: Project for Democratic Geopolitics, London, UK



Alan Mendoza


The Henry Jackson Society: Project for Democratic Geopolitics, London, UK


Ashraf Tulty


Justice & democracy for Libya


Hadi Shalluf


International Criminal Court, Paris


Aref Abu-Rabia


Fulbright Scholar


Omar Affifi


Hukuk Elnas


Jacqueline Armijo


Zayed University, United Arab Emirates


Sliman Bouchuiguir


Libyan League for Human Rights


Mohammed Mahfud


Al-Kalima Magazine, Saudi Arabia


Walid Salem


Panorama, East Jerusalem 


(Names are listed in the order they were received. Organizations are listed for informational purposes only.)