Tuesday, 9 August 2011

America Can Help Arab Spring by Not Controlling It

Saudi Arabia King Abdullah condemned Syrian government Sunday night. Photograph: Tannen Maury/EPA

Lorianne Updike Toler

Sunday night, the king of Saudi Arabia had harsh words for the Syrian government's brutal suppression of its protesting citizenry.  The Arab and European reception was mixed, as King Abdullah had suppressed a similar insurrection in neighboring Bahrain and gave refuge to the has-been Tunisian dictator  Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.  His speaking out at this time looked more like a political ploy to strengthen a post-Assad Sunni government.

Leaders and countries who seem to act out of political expediency rather than provide early and sincere support for Arab Spring uprisings are distrusted in the MENA region.  According to The Huffington Post's Michael Hughes, Obama's support of past dictators and "sluggish" support for the region's popular uprisings has placed the U.S. on the "wrong side" of the Arab Spring.

Hughes recommends that the U.S. "should embrace democracy even if it can't configure the outcome, and accept the reality that the Mideast's emerging governments will unlikely be transfigured into Jeffersonian-style secular republics." 

I agree.  But what does such an embrace look like, in real time?  Does embracing entail standing by, or providing tools and resources that the Arabs can take or leave in their self-determination?

I advocate the latter approach.  As outlined in last week's post, "The Case for History," democracy and its history cannot be divorced.  This means that the U.S. and its Western Allies should share with Arabs what they have learned about democracy, including how it has worked for them and historically successful set-up procedures.

As a wise leader once said, share correct principles (in this case, principles of procedure, not outcome-based), and allow the Arabs to govern themselves.  It might take some time--perhaps something like America's 11 years of near-anarchy under the Articles of Confederation--but Arab self-determination is the only path forward to lasting stability in the region.  

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