Broadening U.S. Engagement With the Middle East
Stephen McInerney, Executive Director of the Project on Middle East Democracy, wrote a recent article in the Huffington Post encouraging the “United States to embrace the historic changes in the [Middle East] by taking action to support democratic transitions and putting pressure on repressive governments to change.” He was adamant that a policy of disengagement from the region would have a devastating effect on the long-term U.S. strategic interests. Past U.S. policy in the Middle East focused on the support of autocratic regimes, while current policy has come to embrace Islamist movements which were formerly considered off-limits. However, U.S. policy continues to focus narrowly on those parties which have come to power, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Ennahda in Tunisia. McInerney points out that “any excessive U.S. focus on forging relations with the parties currently holding power risks ignoring or even alienating potential future leaders.” He suggests “the U.S must seriously reach out across the political spectrum to build a broad set of relationships well before any transfers of power. As these transitioning countries become more democratic, such power transfers will happen regularly, intensifying the need to develop ties as quickly as possible.”
He concluded the article by giving specific policy recommendations for the next administration:
· Demonstrate a commitment to interacting with all major political parties in the Arab world, not only those that have won elections.
· Increase direct contact with a wide variety of nongovernmental organizations.
· Support and facilitate increased interaction between Arab organizations — such as labor unions, professional associations, student groups, and research institutions — and their American counterparts, including through expanded exchange programs and partnerships.
· Dramatically increase efforts to reach citizens and organizations beyond the elites in capital cities and major urban centers.
The article coincides with a letter published by Freedom House entitled “Ten Critical Human Rights Challenges For The Next American President.”