Be careful what you wish for—the call for democracy in traditionally autocratic regimes across the Middle East has been boiler plate rhetoric of most American presidents dating back to World War II. President George W. Bush, in particular, pushed the idea of democratic movements, from Iran to Libya, holding up Iraq as an example of what an elected, representative government could look like. Of course, while President Bush (and other presidents of both parties) spoke eloquently of democracy they also supported and relied upon trusted authoritarian Arab regimes in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen and beyond. Last week protesters in Tunisia did what was thought to be nearly impossible, pushing out a long standing dictator with street demonstrations that reflected a true grass roots democracy movement. Empowered by their fellow Arabs, and perhaps with a psychological barrier having been broken by Tunisians who exposed the weakness of an entrenched dictatorship, Egyptians have taken to the streets this week to protest the long, cruel rule of Hosni Mubarack, another reliable American ally. Democracy in the Middle East might usher in governments that are decidedly unfriendly to the U.S. and our interests. Do we really want democracy in the Middle East?
Ashraf Khalil, senior reporter for Al Masry Al Youm English edition in Cairo; reporter for the Times of London and Foreign Policy magazine
Michele Dunne, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and editor of the online journal Arab Reform Bulletin; served in the U.S. State Department, the National Security Council & the U.S. Embassy in Cairo