In a speech given shortly after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, then President George W. Bush alleged the motivations behind the attacks: that terrorist group Al Qaeda “hate[s] our [United States’] freedoms.” This statement enraged many citizens of Arab nations who felt that this statement was being extended to Arab society in general. Whether or not this was Bush’s intent, the foreign policy that the United States has exported to the Arab world has backed up this claim, and as a result has not stemmed the tide of anti-American sentiment in the region, where Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and democratic groups like Arab Spring are organizing themselves, swaying public opinion, and making inroads to changing the political process in many nations. Unless the United States can be explicit about the role they want to play and the political reasons they have for wanting to be involved, it is unlikely that anti-American sentiment among Arab citizens will change. Jamal is of the opinion that while the Obama administration may end up being better for the Middle East, “there are reasons to remain skeptical.”
Six years after Amaney Jamal published the results discussed in the last post, she wrote this article for the Cairo Review. Jamal points out, rightly, that anti-American sentiment cannot necessarily be equated to anti-democratic or anti-Western sentiment. She makes several valid and often overlooked points regarding both Arab attitudes towards democracy (as revealed in the previous post), and American attitudes towards the ideal path to democracy in the region. For example, she notes the somewhat hypocritical view that “liberalism should be a precondition to democratic transitions,” when in the earliest days of American democracy slavery was legal and women held a subjugated role and could not vote, among many other social injustices that were not rectified until over a hundred years later.
Another American strategy, the attempt to completely remove Islamists from the government, also shows the lack of understanding from US policymakers. Many academics now think that there is no real reason why Islamism and democracy cannot co-exist, and find that attempting to quell Islamism will only serve to make it stronger. More troubling, for me at least, is the American pre-conception that democracy in Arab states should be achieved by supplanting one leader for another, instead of allowing the Arab populace to organically form their own system of government, as is being attempted by groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Arab Spring.
There is the idea among some groups that democracy cannot be attained in the region without outside, particularly American help. But is this true? Or is it more likely that American influence in the region may be as a result of their desire to maintain stability due to their own geostrategic interests? It helps nothing and no one in the region to obscure true intentions with notions of promoting democracy. Instead, the United States should come to the table with their actual goals honestly laid out. Only then can nations in the Arab world achieve true democracy by evolving their government according to the will of the people.