A New Report Affirms the Pivotal Role of Arab Leaders in the Reform Process Requests that the U.S change the content of Al–Hurra Channel
As the latest contribution to the post-September 11 effort to introduce recommendations and suggestions to the U.S administration concerning democratization and reform in Arab countries, the Council on Foreign Relations [www.cfr.org] – headquartered in New York – released a new report Thursday, June 9 entitled "Supporting Arab Democracy – Why and How?"
The report does not introduce any radically new views but instead essentially repeats what other research centers of its kind have said: namely, that the process of democratic development is a slow and gradual process that must be carried out via the political systems that exist in the Arab countries.
Through an accurate study of the regional developments and an evaluation of the options available to the U.S, the report seeks to answer two important questions: (1) Does the policy of democratization in the Middle East serve the interests of the U.S. as well as the objectives of U.S. foreign policy?
(2) How can the U.S. spread democracy without neglecting any of its interests? The report was issued by a group of distinguished experts in Middle East affairs. Most experts are American but there is a small number of Arab experts such as Faisal Abdelraef , Khalif Abu Fadl , Quda Aburain , Tarek Yousef and Abdelsalam Maghawry. The group is headed by the former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeline Albright, and the former member of the House of Representatives in the U.S Congress, Fin Webber (Republican – Minnesota).
The former U. S. Secretary of State pointed out that she had a fruitful meeting with Abraham Eliot, the current Middle East Affairs official on the U. S. National Security Council, in which she informed him of the purpose and findings of the study. He promised to look seriously into its recommendations and suggestions.
The report concludes that the U. S. must support democracy throughout the entire Middle East. It is the opinion of the report that, although adhering to the spread of democracy throughout the Middle East involves some risks, "depriving nations of freedom involves greater risks in the long run".
Does Democratization in the Middle East Serve U. S. Interests?
To this question, the report answers "Yes". The report stressed the need to support democracy not only in the Middle Eats but also throughout the world. Although democracy involves some essential risks, depriving nations from freedom involves greater risks in the long run.
According to the report, if Arab citizens are able to express their complaints freely and peacefully, the chances that they might seek extreme measures to satisfy their needs would be reduced. Moreover, says the report, the chances are high that, given democracy, they would build more open-minded and prosperous societies that respect human rights and the rule of law.
How Should the U.S. Spread Democracy?
The report stressed the necessity for the U.S. to focus its long-run efforts on the development and functionality of democratic institutions. At the same time, the U.S. must realize that democracy cannot be imposed by external force and that sudden and painful changes are neither necessary nor desirable. The report stressed that the U.S. should support gradual democratic development, not abrupt revolution, because true democracy will take hold only with the prior existence of strong democratic roots. Such roots are rare in the Middle East. U.S. policy-makers should also take into consideration the political and economic variations respective to each region as well as the challenges involved in transforming relatively simple elections into a system of permanent and independent democracy. Further, says the report, the U.S. should support the development of democratic systems open to the participation of all political groups insofar as those groups participate peacefully.
Finally, the report warned that U.S.-Arab relations would be unduly harmed if the new policies are applied without gusto, haphazardly, or without sufficient financing. Such a lack of commitment would merely invite new accusations of hypocrisy.
The team that wrote the report, in addition to performing its own research, visited various Arab countries to cull from intellectuals, businessmen and Arab reform activists their thoughts and suggestions. The following are the specific recommendations of the report: *The Bush administration should encourage Arab leaders to institute reforms that satisfy the needs of their citizens – with the knowledge that the demands of citizens from each country will be unique– and it should do so publicly so that Arab citizens will be able to hold their leaders accountable to their specific demands if those leaders do not follow through. The report demands additionally that the U.S. must stress that Arab nations adhere to certain general principles necessary for the existence of democracy such as the protection of human rights, protection against discrimination, the establishment of the rule of law, and the protection of women’s and minority rights.
*The U.S. must not allow Arab leaders to use the U.S.’s policy toward the Arab-Israeli conflict as leverage against instituting democratic reforms. Although the credibility of the U.S. in the Arab world is associated to a great extent with its involvement in Arab-Israeli relations, the U.S. must always confirm its commitment to ensuring that the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza strip takes place without obstacles. Therefore, the U.S. must not allow some Arab leaders to declare that democratic reform is not possible unless the Arab-Israeli issue is resolved. Additionally, the U.S. must not accept the Israeli ultimatum to cease all peace negotiations until the Palestinian Authority becomes fully democratic. The U.S. must support the march towards peace in the Middle East, whether any developments on the course of peace talk place or not and whether any important democratic reforms take place or not.
*The report verified that whether the U.S. likes it or not, it must change its view toward Islamic political parties and support those parties that are non-violent. By pressuring Arab governments to crack down on Islamic political parties, the U.S. allows Middle East leaders to use national security as a pretext to suppress non-violent Islamic organizations. Washington should instead support the political participation of any group or party that is committed to participating within, and upholding, the standards of democracy.
*The report called for the U.S. to support simultaneously economic and political reforms within the Arab world. There are indicators that clearly support the claim that economic growth is closely related to the growth of democracy. Washington should support the improvement of tax schemes, foster healthy investment environments, and work to remove trade barriers. Such actions would help to counter the lack of capital in the Arab world that has stifled investment and growth. The report also referred to the corruption dilemma as a barrier to economic growth in Arab countries. The report attributed the corruption phenomenon to the absence of the consistent enforcement of regulations and the lack of interaction with the international economic community. The report notes, however, that economic reform by itself will not deliver democracy to the Middle East. * Regarding Washington’s public diplomacy strategy, the report argues for three major reforms: The U.S. should revive its Arabic-language radio broadcasts of "Voice of America", it should change the format of its Arabic-language news channel, "Al-Hurra”, to a format similar to that of the C-SPAN network, and the U.S. should rethink its approach towards those media establishments in the Arab world that criticize U.S. foreign policy. The report acknowledges that the U.S. has the right to object to these criticisms. It makes clear, however, that when the U.S. pressures Arab governments to suppress such criticism, the U.S. casts itself in a hypocritical light in the eyes of many Arabs. The report argues that the U.S. must be seen as consistent in its protection for the freedom of the press both at home and abroad.
*While Arab educational systems do not prepare Arab students well for the demands of the global economy, the report argues that "Washington involvement in the process of Arab educational reforms is surrounded with political and cultural risks". U.S.A must seek to establish a partnership with Arab educational institutions to train teachers. The report also refers to the difficulties facing those Arab students who wish to come to the U.S. for further education. The report said that the current restrictions facing those who wish to obtain student visas present a large obstacle to cultural and educational exchange and, thus, it calls for the U.S. to balance its immigration priorities so that it both secures the homeland and provides educational opportunities to qualified foreign students.
This study was released by the Council on Foreign Relations, an independent organization founded in 1921 that publishes its views and studies so that individuals, companies, policy–makers, reporters, students and those otherwise interested may gain a deeper understanding of global issues and the foreign policy options facing the U.S. and other countries.