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Washington Post: How Should the U.S. Respond to the Protests in the Middle East?

Commentators: Steven Heydemann, Stephen J. Hadley, United States Institute of Peace, Aaron David Miller, Danielle Pletka, Hussein Agha, Robert Malley, International Crisis Group, Marina Ottaway, senior associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Democracy and Rule of Law Project, Andrew Albertson, and Ed Husain, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
January 31, 2011

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STEVEN HEYDEMANN

Vice president at the U.S. Institute of Peace and special adviser to the Muslim World Initiative

Arab regimes are reeling from the aftershocks of events in Tunisia. Governments in Egypt and Yemen are the focus of mass protests expressing the anger that many Arab citizens feel toward their leaders. Surprises are possible, but it is most likely that the Egyptian and Yemeni regimes will survive these "days of rage."

After the truncheons have done their work, what are U.S. options? The administration has an extraordinary opportunity to reinvigorate support for democratic reform in the Arab world. For decades, supporters of reform have struggled to make a convincing case that Arab democracy is in America's interest. Fear of Islam and a strong preference for stability have long trumped arguments about the damage to U.S. interests of supporting authoritarian regimes. The recent uprisings demonstrate just how misguided these calculations have been. U.S. interests are poorly served by regimes that have lost the confidence of their people. Illegitimacy and instability are now linked; the connection provides compelling justification for a more assertive U.S. approach to political reform in the Arab world.

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