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Scholars Urge Obama to Push for Democracy in Middle East


More than 140 American and international scholars are urging President Obama to adopt a consistent and credible policy that supports democracy in the Arab and Muslim world. The group issued an open letter to the president with recommendations on how to promote democracy in the region.

The group says the people of the Middle East long for greater freedom and have proven they will fight for it.

It is urging President Obama to abandon regime change as practiced by the Bush administration in Iraq and to accept the democratic process even when it produces victories for Islamists, such as Hamas in the Gaza Strip.

Radwan Masmoudi is president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. His group initiated the idea for a letter to President Obama. He says the first American mistake was invading Iraq.

"The other mistake was backing away from democracy or stop talking about it when Islamist parties fare well in the elections in Egypt, in Palestine, in Lebanon and in Morocco," he says. "They got scared, and I think that was a mistake. Democracy is a process, and we have to be patient and we have to let it run its course."

U.S. policy toward mainstream Islamist groups that have renounced violence and abide by democratic rules should be reviewed, Masmoudi says.

Professor Saad Eddin Ibrahim is an Egyptian reformer who spent several years in an Egyptian prison for criticizing President Hosni Mubarak.

"We are making the argument that legitimate American interests could be served by allying with the people of the Muslim world, with the people of the Arab world, rather than with dictators, because allying with the dictators is a very flimsy proposition, and it only leads to negative results in the medium and long run," Ibrahim says.

The Egyptian government has been cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood, arresting hundreds of its members, even though the group renounced violence years ago and is the largest opposition party in parliament. Washington has been muted in its criticism of Cairo, a major U.S. ally.

Ibrahim says in many countries, including Turkey, Indonesia and Morocco, the right to participate in elections has moderated Islamist parties and enhanced their commitment to democratic norms.

The group praises President Obama for his inaugural address and its gesture to the Islamic world, advocating mutual respect.

Larry Diamond directs the Center on Democracy and Rule of Law at Stanford University. He says President Obama should match his words with deeds.
The U.S has ways - through private diplomacy, through assistance programs, through public statements, etc. - in which to pursue improvements for the citizens of these countries," Dunne says.

The State Department says it is reviewing the overall policy toward the Middle East, but spokesman Robert Wood said recently that Washington continues to have an interest in promoting democracy in the region.

The group of scholars says by supporting human, civil and political rights of peoples in the Middle East and Muslim world, the U.S. will be on the right side of history.


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