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November 03, 2005

Is There Hope ? Yes. (The Emerging Consensus on Democracy Promotion)
Posted by Shadi Hamid

A friend emailed me after reading my post yesterday and asked:  how can we ever hope to convince the US government to engage in dialogue with groups like the Muslim Brotherhood (or Al-Nahda in Tunisia or the Islamic Salvation Front in Algeria) ?

Five years ago, such a question might have been prescient but, fortunately, we’ve come a long way since then. There have been, since 9/11,  two major shifts in the policy debate:   

        1) It is now a near-consensus, perhaps even an article of faith among both Democrats and Republicans, that there is a causal relationship between lack of democracy and terrorism. This new discourse took hold in the ashes of 9/11 and the Bush administration has wholeheartedly adopted it (at least in theory).

        2) More striking is the shift in policy discourse regarding US engagement with moderate Islamists, a shift that has taken place largely in the last 8 months. On both Left and Right, a growing chorus of influential voices has been calling for the inclusion of nonviolent Islamist parties in the political process.

You can imagine my surprise when I read this memorandum on the Egyptian elections by Gary Schmitt, Executive Director of The Project for the New American Century (the neo-conservative organization with close ties to the Bush administration):

Some are concerned that a truly open election will encourage the likes of the Muslim Brotherhood. We agree that is a concern. But, unless we expect Mubarak and his son to hold on to power indefinitely – despite all the corruption, dysfunctionalism, and anger his rule engenders in Egypt itself – this is a risk supporters of democracy must take.   

The Independent Task Force on U.S. Policy Toward Reform in the Arab World, sponsored by the Council on Foreign Relations and co-chaired by Madeline Albright and former Republican congressman Vin Weber, concluded that the United States “should not allow Middle Eastern leaders to use national security as an excuse to suppress nonviolent Islamist organizations. Washington should support the political participation of any group or party committed to abide by the rules and norms of the democratic process." Experts at the Carnegie Endowment’s Democracy and Rule of Law Project, such as Amr Hamzawy, Marina Ottaway, Michelle Dunne, and Thomas Carothers have also called on the Bush administration to reach out to moderate Islamists.  Reuel Marc Gerecht, of the American Enterprise Institute, has also come on the side of incorporating non-violent Islamists in the political process

I will stop there, but the point should be clear: an impressive consensus is developing and it encompasses well-regarded experts from across the ideological spectrum.

In sum, an effective democracy promotion policy must be founded upon these two foundational premises which are, again, that lack of democracy contributes to terrorism and, secondly, that real democracy necessitates some type of Islamist engagement and inclusion. Thus far, the Bush administration’s Mid-east policy has fully accepted the first premise but not the second. As for the Democrats, they must - if they want to get their act together on democracy promotion - begin to accept these two foundational premises as a matter of policy. Once they do that, they will be well-positioned to articulate a bold, comprehensive vision for future US engagement in the Midde East.


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While lack of democracy may contribute to terrorism in certain situations, isn't it more the case that the current round of anti-American terrorism is driven by legitimate greivances against U.S. policies? Isn't this obvious?

Addressing these grievances, especially the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the only way to lessen the anger that motivates the terrorists.

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