Can the Middle East Navigate Democracy? | Freedom House

Can the Middle East Navigate Democracy?

Interview with: Mark P. Lagon, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Human Rights and President of Freedom House 

Interviewer: Zachary Laub, Online Writer/Editor 


Following a year of upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa, the promise of the 2011 Arab uprisings appears remote. But throughout the region, the public yearning for governmental reforms remains strong, says CFR Adjunct Senior Fellow Mark P. Lagon. Major democracies must lend their support to indigenous civil society movements, argues Lagon, the incoming president of the Washington-based rights group Freedom House. 

In the final weeks of 2014, we’ve seen opposing currents from states at the forefront of the Arab uprisings. Tunisia held an election that’s been considered free and fair, while in Egypt, the ousted former president Hosni Mubarak was acquitted of criminal charges. How would you assess the state of the Arab uprisings?

There’s a tendency for people to view the so-called Arab Spring and its aftermath as a miserable failure, and it’s important to remember the aspirations of people seeking a voice.

Tunisia is a reason for some hope. It’s a singular case, but with free and fair elections and what some might call a maturing electorate, a formerly ruling party is living by the rules while allowing a transfer of power.

Egypt is the other end of the spectrum. Things have gone from bad to worse. Popularly elected military rulers have been desecrating rights. Those with NGOs who have been arrested and sentenced for sedition have had their sentences extended. There is a harsh crackdown on dissent and media freedom.

Other countries that had uprisings—most notably Syria, Libya, and Yemen—now have civil wars that have both exposed the domestic cleavages and been exacerbated by rivalries among regional powers. What conflict resolution mechanisms are available?

It is not a matter of the capacity of the UN or of leading powers to take action; it is a matter of their will. It is convenient for us to point the finger at Russia and China, veto-wielding powers in the Security Council, but the United States has not shown as much leadership in Syria and Iraq as needed.

In Syria, had the United States played some role to assist less violent, more liberal elements [among]  the opposition, I think the metastasis of ISIS may not have occurred to the extent that it has.

Read the full interview at the Council for Foreign Relations blog


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