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A Squandered Opportunity

Author: Mohamad Bazzi, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
July 15, 2010
Khaleej Times

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When he took office, US President Barack Obama made it a priority to restore US credibility after the damage done by his predecessor. Obama pledged to revamp America's relationship with the Arab and Muslim worlds, raising hopes for a dramatic change in US policy.

Unfortunately, his administration's actions have fallen well short of his eloquent words. People in the Middle East are accustomed to soaring rhetoric that leads nowhere. There's a useful term for it: haki fadi—empty talk.

More than a year after his much-celebrated speech in Cairo, Obama is dangerously close to being full of haki fadi. He has failed to deliver on a crucial ambition: advancing democracy and human rights in the Arab world.

While Obama rejected the notion that Islam and democracy are incompatible, his administration has chosen to pursue regional stability at the expense of democratic reform. The administration is especially reluctant to disrupt its alliances with the region's many authoritarian rulers, hoping that these autocrats can help broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement after decades of failure.

Obama said all the right things about democracy promotion in his Cairo speech. “America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election,” he said. “But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.”

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