West must support democracy in Arab world as it did in Central Europe
Western leaders must support democracy in the Arab world now in 2011 as they did in Central and Eastern Europe in 1989. The time for viewing dictatorships as defenders of Western civilization is finished.
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These visits were used to express unambiguous readiness to welcome change in the old regional and global order and offer an inspiring vision about the potential new international order that could come about as a result of successful democratization in Central Europe.Skip to next paragraph
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In his speech in Warsaw on July 10, 1989, Mr. Bush cast democratization as an opportunity to move beyond bipolar geopolitics: “Poland is where the Cold War began, and now the people of Poland can help bring the division of Europe to an end.”
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He echoed these themes two days later in Budapest, adding that the guiding principle of the United States would be to “offer assistance not to prop up the status quo but to propel reform,” emphasizing that the United States would offer assistance – but only if negotiations resulted in institutionalized safeguards for pluralist democracy.
Bush’s public speeches pictured domestic supporters of peaceful democratization as prime movers (and future beneficiaries) of epochal changes in regional and global politics. Widely reported in the region, they sent signals to still dormant or hesitant reformers and inactive democratic opposition in the other Central and Eastern Europe countries about what roles the future might hold for them.
What is strikingly different between the summer of 1989 and that of 2011 is the deafening silence of the leaders of Western democracies today. The decision by both the US and the European Union to give financial support to the transition governments before the inauguration of democratic rule might strengthen the hold on power by representatives of the old regimes.
If President Obama wants to support democratization in North Africa, now is the time to do so. Revisiting Cairo, he could speak publicly to the people of the region, articulating a robust vision of a Middle East, not with one besieged democracy but of several consolidating democracies. As 1989 was the time to end the division of Europe, so is this the time to end the division of the Middle East by pointing to the shared benefits of political, economic, and cultural integration among the old and the new democracies in the region backed by support of the leading Western democracies.
The time for presenting dictatorships as defenders of Western civilization is finished. It is time that support in the Arab world should be a strategic policy of support for all democracies in the region.
Laszlo Bruszt is professor and chairman of the Department of Political and Social Sciences at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. David Stark is the Arthur Lehman Professor of Sociology and International Affairs at Columbia University in New York City. Their coauthored book, “Postsocialist Pathways: Transforming Politics and Property in East Central Europe,” will be translated and published in Arabic in 2012.