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The Monitor's View

Hard lessons in liberty for the Middle East

With pro-democracy struggles in trouble in Iran and in the Arab Spring, opposition figures now realize that unity against tyranny is easier than unity in favor of democracy. Many see the need for a change.

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With assistance from France, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, many of the pro-democracy Syrian groups are trying to set aside differences and unite under a single leader.

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In Egypt, the pro-democracy liberals who united to overthrow Hosni Mubarak have since failed to unite to win elections. The result is the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power. But with a parliamentary election coming up, at least six of the secular political groups plan to back a single candidate in each district, setting aside differences for now.

Libya’s revolution remains a model of sorts for Arabs in how protesters should unite during and after a revolution. While the transition from the Qaddafi regime has been difficult, Libyan protesters did form a transitional council under a respected defector, Mustafa Abduljalil, and were able to form a united rebel force.

At a deeper level, many in the Middle East see a need for more unity among the region’s many religions as the basis for a peaceful transition to democracy. Last weekend, for example, Turkey hosted an international conference in Istanbul called “Arab Spring and Peace in the New Middle East: Muslim and Christian Perspectives.”

In a joint declaration, the conference of religious leaders stated: “While state systems may be different, equal citizenship, the rule of law and protection of freedoms are the basis of a strong and vibrant civil society.”

One attendee, Patriarch Theophilos III of the pan-Orthodox church in Jerusalem, said in a speech to the conference: “We believe that conflict, prejudice, hatred, and injustice can be turned into peace, mutual respect, love and righteousness.”

As the cradle of so many religions, and now the latest crucible in the advance of democracy, the Middle East needs to keep an eye on the uplifting values that unite all people.

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