New Arabic Reformist Website: ‘The Arab World Doesn’t have to Choose between Islamists and Dictators; There is a Third Way – the Way of Reform, Liberalism, and Democracy’

“The Arab World Doesn’t Have to Choose Between Islamists and Dictators July 12, 2006 memri “The Arab World Doesn’t Have to Choose Between Islamists and Dictators; There is a Third Way – the Way of Reform, Liberalism, and Democracy” In an editorial posted on the new Arabic reformist website , the site’s editor criticizes Arab governments and elites who show no concern for the sorry state of the Arab world but are instead waiting until the end of the Bush administration’s two remaining years so that they can rid themselves of its reform initiatives. The writer goes on to encourage reformist forces in Arab countries to make their voices heard so as not to miss the current historic opportunity for reform in the Middle East. The following are excerpts from the article:(1) The Arab Governments Impatiently Await the End of the Bush Administration – So They Can Rid Themselves of Its Reform Initiatives “Some say that Arab soil produces only Islamist or dictatorial regimes. We say that there is a third way – the way of reform, liberalism, and democracy, which is the way desired by millions of Arab citizens who dream of living in freedom and dignity like other human beings… “All economic, political, social, and educational statistics reveal that the Arab countries are at the bottom of the list of the world’s countries, and that their future is likely to be even worse. Yet this is the last thing that concerns the Arab governments and the intellectual elites who answer to them. What concerns them is [waiting for] the remaining two years of the Bush administration to finally come to an end – and with them the calls for reform and democracy in the Middle East – [so that] despotism may once again reign in this miserable part of the world. “In another two years, the Arab governments will be able to breathe a sigh of relief. They will no longer hear anyone asking them to change, or imposing reform initiatives on them. They understand that most American politicians are no longer zealous about spreading democracy, and they think that investing in the modernization of the Arabs and in helping them to establish democracy is a waste of money, time, and effort – since Arab soil produces only Islamists or dictatorial regimes. “Therefore, the Arab governments are impatiently awaiting the day when they can reap the fruits of the policy of evasion and delay, which they have adopted in the past few years to parry the calls for reform. They hope that things will return to normal and that they will once again [be free to] impose their hold on their societies.” “The [Arab] Reformists Think That the Peoples of the Middle East Deserve Better” “But… the forces of reform and those who demand change have their own agenda. They do not think that the choice must necessarily be between Islamists and dictatorial regimes… The reformists think that the peoples of the region deserve better. They deserve to live in modern countries that respect the right to live in dignity… “The reformists believe that in the wake of September 11, a historic opportunity for change has emerged – an opportunity that must not be missed like the first opportunity in the early 19th century…” Arab Societies Have Already Missed an Opportunity for Reform, Instead “Follow[ing] the Dictatorial Military Regimes and… Religious Extremism” “At that time, there appeared on the horizon a number of figures who wanted to bring enlightenment and renaissance [to the Arab world], like Sheikh Rifa’a Rafi’ Al-Tahtawi in Egypt, Khayr Al-Din Al-Tunisi in Tunisia, ‘Abd Al-Rahman Al-Kawakibi in Syria, Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani, Muhammad Abduh, and others. These people dedicated their lives to extracting the Arab societies from backwardness, ignorance, and despotism. They called for modernization, [acquisition of] knowledge, and benefiting from the European model of civil institutions, rule of law, and democracy [as] the form of government. “Yet the Arab societies missed this opportunity when they ignored the calls of these men of enlightenment and renaissance and [instead] followed the dictatorial military regimes and those who called for religious extremism. These societies had to wait some 200 years before another opportunity for reform came along… “In response to the attacks of September 11, and in response to the jihad declared by Al-Qaeda on the U.S. in August 1998, the American administration adopted a program for spreading freedom, democracy, and reform in the Middle East, since it believed that this would be the [most] effective treatment against extremism and terrorism in the region. The Americans acted on a number of fronts. They brought down the Taliban regime in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq, and they invested much in establishing democracy in these two countries. They called on the governments of the region to adopt programs for political, economic, and educational reform, and launched many initiatives for local and regional cooperation for encouraging democracy and reform…” The Forces of Reform and Change in Arab Countries Must Act – So as Not to Miss This Opportunity “However, as usual, the Arab governments have responded to the challenge in a negative way. Some have rejected it and launched an open struggle against any change, while others have adopted tactics of evasion and delay… The unfortunate thing is that most of the Arab intellectual elites sided with their governments, and chose to stand on the side of despotism and backwardness. “In order to avoid missing the current opportunity, the forces of reform and change in the Arab countries need to act. They must take the initiative, reinforce their ranks, and make their voices heard…” Endnote: (1) . The site , launched in June, 2006, joins the ranks of the Arab reformist websites that have begun operating in the past few years, with the aim of promoting reform, liberalism, and democracy in the Arab world. The most prominent of these sites are: , , , and . Aafaq features articles by Arab reformists, news items and reports on reform and human rights issues, profiles of reformists, video clips from the Arab media, and open forums on topics such as economy, education, society, religion, and politics.

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