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Ten years hence

Ten Points About U.S. Peace Policy and the Middle East

April 8, 2005

On April 8, 2005, Dr. Shibley Telhami, Anwar Sadat Professor of Peace and Development at the University of Maryland, presented "Fundamentalism, Peace and the Middle East," which contained the following excerpts:

  • In a recent survey of people in the Middle East, the majority of respondents indicated they believe that America's objectives in the region are oil, Israel and weakening the Muslim world, not the spread of democracy and human rights.
  • Not only has the percentage of those Arabs holding a favorable view of the United States slid into the single digits, but there has also been a widespread collapse of trust in U.S. policies.
  • The prospect of the war in Iraq forced the governments of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Pothar and Kuwait to support the United States rather than risk appearing to be opposed, despite the sentiment of their citizens. It then became necessary for the governments to unleash their security forces to pre-empt opposition, which effectively expanded repression.
  • However, even though U.S. policies to increase democracy have not been perceived as sincere by countries in the Middle East, the talk of democracy empowers citizens by putting pressure on the governments they despise.
  • After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Americans came to believe that the establishment of democracy is conducive to national security. But there is no consensus among experts that democracy decreases terrorism.
  • Recent studies of how countries move from authoritarianism to democracy shows that the path is unpredictable, irreversible and fraught with instability, and therefore, violence. Reformers are faced, then, with increased violence and terrorism for the foreseeable future. They may come to believe that the advocacy of democracy is actually counterproductive to national security.
  • The United States can empower particular groups in the Middle East, but it cannot be the primary agent of change. The Middle East, in the end, has to find its own means of change.
  • The United States must make addressing the Arab/Israeli issue a priority in its foreign policy or its intentions will be doubted by Middle Eastern countries and its effectiveness on other issues diminished.
  • Studies show two groups of Arabs are most likely to oppose the United States and favor military options: those of low income and those with higher education. The latter case refers to people who have degrees, but the degrees are in fields that do not lead to jobs — a "lethal combination" resulting in frustration and a high level of opposition to U.S. foreign policies.
  • American's most important task in improving relations with Arab and Muslim countries and in spreading democracy is to transform the educational and economic possibilities in the Middle East.


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