Albright talks Arab democracy at U

Cati Vanden Breul

Democracy in the Middle East will not guarantee an end to terrorism, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said Thursday at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.

Albright delivered the opening remarks in a sold-out auditorium and participated in a panel discussion about the U.S. role in promoting democracy in the Arab world.

She and Vin Weber, a former Minnesota Republican congressman, headed a task force for the bipartisan Council on Foreign Relations addressing how and why the United States should work toward the democratization of the Middle East.

The task force came to the conclusion in its report that although it’s important to bring democracy to the region, it must be done carefully and with patience.

“We believe that if Arabs are able to freely express their grievances, they will be less likely to turn to extreme measures and more likely to build successful societies,” Albright said.

But promoting democracy in the Middle East should be done through partnership with European leaders and nongovernmental organizations because many in the region do not trust the United States, she said.

“Most Arabs don’t believe we have their best interest at heart,” said Albright, who was secretary of state during the Clinton administration.

The torture allegations at U.S. detention facilities such as Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have caused the world to lose respect for the United States, she said.

But Humphrey Institute professor Michael Barnett, who spoke at the forum, said it’s important to realize America’s damaged reputation goes way back.

“It’s not something that happened overnight, clearly there are a lot of recent policies that contributed, but it’s not a new theme,” Barnett said.

However, it is a theme that can be dispelled, he said.

“Reputations rise and fall,” he said, “but I think there is a readiness out there to hope that the U.S. will learn to play better in the global sandbox.”

For now, though, even those who desire democracy in the Middle East do not want to be associated with America, Albright said.

“They do not want us telling them what to do; nor do they want us meddling in their affairs,” she said. “Imposing democracy is an oxymoron.”

Arab nations must be allowed to form their own types of democracy, and the United States should not discourage political parties that are organized around religion, Albright said.

“We cannot expect democracy to put down roots in that region simply in response to nice rhetoric and slogans; it will not take hold if it is viewed as alien to Arab culture… and it will not be sustained unless it is embraced and understood by the majority of people,” she said.

Humza Khan, University senior and public relations officer for the Muslim Student Association, said democracy can function well in a Muslim country.

“Islam promotes many types of government; it has no set form of government it must follow,” Khan said.

Albright said as long as a political party commits to nonviolence, it should be allowed a voice.

“Any political party that makes a credible commitment to abide by democratic rules, including nonviolence, should be allowed to participate,” she said.

The forum was the first public discussion of the task force report.