The United States will remain engaged in the Middle East in the midst of the Arab Awakening.
The United States will remain engaged in the Middle East in the midst of an Arab Awakening that has created great political upheaval and inflamed sectarian and communal tensions.
The question, said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, is whether a new order can replace the old, gradually establishing democratic institutions to manage sectarian differences and provide an outlet for individual dignity. The United States, he said, has a powerful stake in shaping a long-term strategy for enhancing the chance for a new moderate order in North Africa and the Middle East.
The first element of that strategy is to support democratic reform. Such reform must include respect for the rule of law, peaceful and inclusive political processes, and protection of fundamental rights of all citizens, including women and minorities and people of all faiths.
No democratic transition can succeed without the hope of economic prosperity. “Unless the Arab Awakening is accompanied by an economic awakening,” said Deputy Secretary Burns, “it will collapse. The hard truth is that most Arab societies have ducked serious economic reform for far too long.”
Governments will have to create a consensus about what the economic rules will be and they must apply to all. Inclusive politics and inclusive economic change have to go hand in hand.
Finally, just as sustainable democratic reform and economic opportunity depend on one another, both depend on a more stable regional environment. The bloody conflict in Syria which has now killed more than 70,000 continues to rage.
“The simple truth is that there can be no stability in Syria, no resolution of the crisis, without a transition to new leadership,” said Mr. Burns. Elsewhere, Deputy Secretary Burns expressed profound concerns on Iran’s nuclear program as well as on a range of dangerous Iranian behavior in the region and Tehran’s denial of human rights of its citizens at home. And finally, Mr. Burns endorsed the Administration’s tireless efforts to reinvigorate the Middle East Peace Process.
Now is the time for engagement in the Middle East. It is the only way to increase the odds that moderates can succeed in ushering in democratic change, economic opportunity, and regional peace and security.