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
Tuesday, March 10,2009 07:22
By islam-democracy.org

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.)

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