In an article for the journal Democracy, Research Director Shadi Hamid discusses the need for the United States to move beyond its “Islamist dilemma” by creating a well-defined policy of engagement with religious moderates throughout the Middle East.
America’s post-September 11 project to promote democracy in the Middle East has proven a spectacular failure. Today, Arab autocrats are as emboldened as ever. Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, and others are backsliding on reform. Opposition forces are being crushed. Three of the most democratic polities in the region, Lebanon, Iraq, and the Palestinian territories, are being torn apart by violence and sectarian conflict.
Not long ago, it seemed an entirely different outcome was in the offing. As recently as late 2005, observers were hailing the “Arab spring,” an “autumn for autocrats,” and other seasonal formulations. They had cause for such optimism. On January 31, 2005, the world stood in collective awe as Iraqis braved terrorist threats to cast their ballots for the first time. That February, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak announced multi-candidate presidential elections, another first. And that same month, after former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri was killed, Lebanon erupted in grief and then anger as nearly one million Lebanese took to the streets of their war-torn capital, demanding self-determination. Not long afterward, 50,000 Bahrainis–one-eighth of the country’s population–rallied for constitutional reform. The opposition was finally coming alive.
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