Hundreds of Egyptian reformers greeted Mohamed ElBaradei’s return to Cairo’s airport earlier this year, anticipating that the former head of the United Nations atomic-energy agency could present a serious challenge to President Hosni Mubarak or the dynastic succession of his son, Gamal.
But some Egyptian democracy advocates remain unimpressed.
While there appears to be no immediate threat to regime stability in a region characterized by strong states, there is evidence of underlying discontent and social unrest, including an upsurge in labor militancy. Some 1.7 million workers participated in 1,900 strikes and other actions between 2004 and 2008, according to a report from the Solidarity Center, an institute of the National Endowment for Democracy.
A year after President Barack Obama’s made a qualified commitment to support democratization in his celebrated Cairo speech, Egyptian reformers have criticized his administration for backtracking on democracy.
In this analysis in The London Review of Books, Adam Shatz notes that the Obama administration, “keen to break with Bush’s messianic talk about spreading democracy, has worked to rebuild trust with the Egyptian government.”
He notes the Council on Foreign Relations’ contingency planning memorandum arguing for continued support to the Mubarak regime on the grounds that it “has helped create a regional order that makes it relatively inexpensive for the United States to exercise its power”, while a Muslim Brotherhood government ‘‘would pose a far greater threat—in magnitude and degree—to US interests than the Iranian revolution.”
This is precisely the logic that the region’s authoritarians deliberately cultivate, as Middle East analyst Daniel Brumberg recently observed. The regimes “turn to the U.S. and say, ‘Well, the only alternative to us is the Islamists, so you must support us.’ But that kind of dynamic in which the choice is just between regimes and (their) oppositions is a consequence of policies that have to be changed.”
Brumberg, acting director of the US Institute of Peace’s Muslim World Initiative, drawing on a recent USIP report on prospects for Middle East democracy, argues that the problem “is that regimes that cooperate closely with the U.S. are also regimes that are seen increasingly by their own populace as either illegitimate or repressive or disconnected from the societies they claim to represent.”
Tamara Cofman Wittes, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, will be explaining the administration’s approach at a forthcoming meeting organized by Freedom House and the Project on Middle East Democracy:
One Year After Cairo: Has U.S. Engagement Improved the Prospects for Reform in the Arab World?
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs
Tamara Cofman Wittes
May 26, 2010
Senate Visitors Center (SVC), Room 209
11:00am – 12:30pm
Freedom House and the Project on Middle East Democracy(POMED) invite you to attend, “One Year After Cairo: Has U.S. Engagement Improved the Prospects for Reform in the Arab World?” This panel event will explore the effects of President Obama’s new approach to the Arab World, the current challenges for democracy and human rights in the region, and the prospects for changes in U.S. policy to bring about a lasting impact.