News / Middle East

Mideast Experts Warn of Dangers for Democracy Movements

Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright (file photo)
Former secretary of state Madeleine Albright (file photo)

A former U.S. Secretary of State warned on Wednesday that democracy in Egypt and Tunisia is still threatened by entrenched powers and extremism, while Arab democracy activists urged the new governments there to guarantee justice, transparency and minority rights.  

The revolutions in the Arab world dominated discussion at the annual U.S.-Islamic World Forum.  The event, sponsored by the Washington-based Brookings Institution and the government of Qatar, drew lawmakers, diplomats, and regional experts.

Although some participants worried that the uprising in Libya might turn into a prolonged civil war and that the Persian Gulf monarchy of Bahrain might exacerbate the regional rift between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims, others warned that Egypt and Tunisia's revolutions have not yet ushered in full democracy.

Madeleine Albright was U.S. Secretary of State during the Clinton administration.

"The danger is that people get dissatisfied," said Madeleine Albright. "It does happen and this is true wherever in the world, that people who are left out of it get disillusioned by everything.  Or that there are extremists that take advantage of it."

Albright said the United States should try to approach the changes in the Middle East with a consistently moral foreign policy.

"But - and this is the big 'but,' and it's always very hard to admit - not all policies are consistent all the time," she said. "And we have to be worried about some of the sectarian aspects of what's going on in the [Persian] Gulf, and what the influence of Iran might be."

In a speech at the forum a day earlier, current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rejected what she called a "one-size-fits-all approach" for U.S. foreign policy toward countries facing change.

But Hossan Bahgat of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights alleged that the United States uses different human rights standards for different Arab countries and for Israel.

"Unless you are going to apply the same values systemically and consistently in the region, the United States is not going to have the ability to be an advocate for reform in the region," said Hossan Bahgat.

Bahgat said that despite the ouster of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, authorities in his country still have too much arbitrary power and are not transparent enough.

He said the government's response to the anti-Mubarak protests that erupted in January must be investigated.

"I still don't know who ordered the snipers that executed people before my own eyes on the square [in Tahrir Square in Cairo]," he said.

Saad Eddin Ibrahim is a longtime pro-democracy activist who was imprisoned by the Egyptian government in 2000.

He said that in Egypt, Coptic Christians, women and young people have been grossly underrepresented in government.

"And therefore, building an Arab democracy in the 21st century has to have a deliberate attempt to empower these previously marginalized groups," said Saad Eddin Ibrahim.

Ibrahim said the principle of "one man, one vote" would not work in the Arab world, and proposed that 40 percent of the seats in Arab parliaments be reserved for people under 40 to address unbalanced representation in the past.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

US, China Have Dueling Definitions of Cybersecurity

Analysts say attribution or or proving that a particular individual or government is responsible for a hack, is a daunting task More

Snowden: I'd Go to Prison to Return to US

Former NSA contractor says he has not received a formal plea-deal offer from US officials, who consider him to be a traitor More

Goodbye Pocahontas: Photos Reveal Today's Real Native Americans

Weary of stereotypes, photographer Matika Wilbur is determined to reshape the public's perception of her people More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europei
Luis Ramirez
October 02, 2015 4:45 PM
European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Russia’s Syria Involvement Raising Concerns in Europe

European nations are joining the United States in demanding that Russia stop targeting opposition groups other than the Islamic State militants as Russian warplanes continue to conduct raids in Syria. The demand came in a statement from Britain, France, Germany, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States Friday. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video First Self-Driving Truck Debuts on European Highways

The first automated semi-trailer truck started its maiden voyage Friday, Oct. 2, on a European highway. The Daimler truck called 'Actros' is the first potentially mass-produced truck whose driver will be required only to monitor the situation, similar to the role of an airline captain while the plane is in autopilot mode. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Migrant Influx Costs Europe, But Economy Could Benefit

The influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees and migrants is testing Europe’s ability to respond – especially in the poorer Balkan states. But some analysts argue that Europe will benefit by welcoming the huge numbers of young people – many of them well educated and willing to work. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

Video New Fabric Helps Fight Dust-Related Allergies

Many people around the world suffer from dust-related allergies, caused mainly by tiny mites that live in bed linen. Polish scientists report they have successfully tested a fabric that is impenetrable to the microscopic creatures. VOA’s George Putic has more.

Video Burkina Faso's Economy Deeply Affected by Political Turmoil

Political turmoil in Burkina Faso over the past year has taken a toll on the economy. The transitional government is reporting nearly $70 million in losses in the ten days that followed a short-lived coup by members of the presidential guard earlier this month. The crisis shut businesses and workers went on strike. With elections on the horizon, Emilie Iob reports on what a return to political stability can do for the country's economic recovery.

Video Fleeing Violence, Some Syrians Find Refuge in Irbil

As Syrians continue to flee their country’s unrest to seek new lives in safer places, VOA Persian Service reporter Shepol Abbassi visited Irbil, where a number Syrians have taken refuge. During the religious holidy of Eid al-Adha, the city largely shut down, as temperatures soared. Amy Katz narrates his report.

Video Nigeria’s Wecyclers Work for Reusable Future in Lagos

The streets and lagoons of Africa's largest city - Lagos, Nigeria - are often clogged with trash, almost none of which gets recycled. One company is trying to change that. Chris Stein reports for VOA from Lagos.

Video Sketch Artist Helps Catch Criminals, Gives a Face to Deceased

Police often face the problem of trying to find a crime suspect based on general descriptions that could fit hundreds of people in the vicinity of the crime. In these cases, an artist can use information from witnesses to sketch a likeness that police can show the public via newspapers and television. But, as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, such sketches can also help bring back faces of the dead.

Video Thailand Set to Build China-like Internet Firewall

Thai authorities are planning to tighten control over the Internet, creating a single international access point so they can better monitor content. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Bangkok on what is being called Thailand’s own "Great Firewall."

Video Croatian Town’s War History Evokes Empathy for Migrants

As thousands of Afghanistan, Iraqi and Syrian migrants pass through Croatia, locals are reminded of their own experiences with war and refugees in the 1990s. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from the town of Vukovar, where wartime scars still are visible today.

Video Long Drought Affecting California’s Sequoias

California is suffering under a historic four-year drought and scientists say even the state's famed sequoia trees are feeling the pain. The National Park Service has started detailed research to see how it can help the oldest living things on earth survive. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs