IRI President Urges Support for Democracy in the Middle East

Washington, DC – Lorne W. Craner, President of IRI, testified today before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, chaired by Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), at a hearing looking at recent developments in Egypt and Lebanon and the implications for U.S. policy and allies in the broader Middle East. 

In his testimony Craner highlighted the different approach to reform in the region pointing out that, “Counter-intuitively, with a small number of exceptions, problematic consequences are less likely in the region’s monarchies than in the republics.  This is true for a number of reasons.  First, beginning about 15 years ago, the region’s monarchies, mostly young kings who had been educated abroad, all to one degree or another embarked on efforts to begin to modernize their countries economically and politically.

“It is the region’s republics that will be most affected by recent events in the region.  The region’s republics are run by men who, at best, have rigged elections and now have decreasingly credible claims to leadership.  The fate of these leaders is more directly dependent on performance, which in most countries has been sorely lacking; leaders of the region’s republics have for decades stalled economic and political reforms.”

Craner also addressed the argument that the only choice for the U.S. in Egypt was the regime of Hosni Mubarak or an Islamist government.  “We have allowed the Egyptian government through its undermining of moderate and secular political opposition, nongovernmental organizations and activists to actively promote a dynamic for decades that makes the U.S. ‘choose’ between Mubarak’s National Democratic Party and the Muslim Brotherhood, with nothing in-between.  This turns out to have been a false choice, as witnessed by the large number of young activists and average Egyptians presently in Liberation Square.”

In concluding his testimony, Craner urged Congress and the Obama administration to support democracy and democratic leaders in the region to avoid the political vacuum when authoritarian governments collapse.  “Realists are noted for valuing stability in our relations abroad, even if that means ignoring how a ruler governs his state.  In the aftermath of Iraq, that approach gained greater appeal.  Unfortunately, being so closely tied to authoritarians does not serve U.S. interests when the authoritarians fall from power and a political vacuum ensues.  It is important, when we necessarily have relations with authoritarian governments, to plan for the day when they may no longer be in power, and to cultivate and assist those who may replace them.  We must also supplement our focus on personalities by working to build institutions that will make future transitions less difficult.  This is a realistic approach – a type of insurance – to safeguarding U.S. interests in the long term.      

“The United States must strongly and consistently support popular demands for transparency, accountability and freedom.  We must have a presence in these countries to help build democratic institutions and provide an enabling environment for political parties and civil society to organize and prepare to take part in credible elections.  We must make a long-term commitment to stay and help young democracies and their leaders develop the capacity to govern effectively.”

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