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Stephen Zunes on U.S. support for "democracy" in the Middle East [View All]

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marmar Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Wed Jan-26-11 08:49 PM
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Stephen Zunes on U.S. support for "democracy" in the Middle East
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"The growing movement favoring democracy and human rights in the Middle East has not shared the remarkable successes of its counterparts in Eastern Europe, Latin America, Africa and parts of Asia. Most Middle Eastern governments remain autocratic. Despite occasional rhetorical support for greater individual freedoms, the United States has generally not supported tentative Middle Eastern steps toward democratization. Indeed, the United States has reduced - or maintained at low levels - its economic, military and diplomatic support to Arab countries that have experienced substantial political liberalization in recent years while increasing support for autocratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt and Morocco. Jordan, for example, received large-scale US support in the 1970s and 1980s despite widespread repression and authoritarian rule; when it opened up its political system in the early 1990s, the US substantially reduced - and, for a time, suspended - foreign aid. Aid to Yemen was cut off within months of the newly unified country's first democratic election in 1990.

Despite its laudable rhetoric, Washington's real policy regarding human rights in the Middle East is not difficult to infer. It is undeniable that democracy and universally recognized human rights have never been common in the Arab Islamic world. Yet the tendency in the US to emphasize cultural or religious explanations for this fact serves to minimize other factors that are arguably more salient - including the legacy of colonialism, high levels of militarization and uneven economic development - most of which can be linked in part to the policies of Western governments, including the United States. There is a circuitous irony in a US policy that sells arms, and often sends direct military aid, to repressive Middle Eastern regimes that suppress their own people and crush incipient human rights movements, only to then claim that the resulting lack of democracy and human rights is evidence that the people do not want such rights. In reality, these arms transfers and diplomatic and economic support systems play an important role in keeping autocratic Arab regimes in power by strengthening the hand of the state and supporting internal repression. The US then justifies its large-scale military aid to Israel on the grounds that it is "the sole democracy in the Middle East," even though these weapons are used less to defend Israeli democracy than to suppress the Palestinians' struggle for self determination."

- from Ten Things to Know About U.S. Policy in the Middle East by Stephen Zunes

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