WASHINGTON, Jan. 30 (UPI) -- U.S. sponsorship of democracy has not won it allies in the Arab world, a leading Israeli analyst argues.
The promotion of reform along democratic lines is a shared aim of Arab liberals and U.S. policy-makers in the Middle East, but the anti-Americanism espoused by Islamists and Arab nationalists presents an omnipresent obstacle to the liberal cause, Israeli analyst Barry Rubin argues.
In his new article "Arab Liberals Argue about America," Rubin suggests that as American appeal in the Arab world increases, "Arab nationalists and Islamists have an even greater incentive to distort Washington's policies ... the United States becomes the great Satan whose devilishness justifies their behavior."
Rubin wrote his article before the Palestinian election last week resulted in the unexpected landslide victory of Hamas, the Islamic Resistance Movement, which has waged a suicide bombing campaign against Israeli civilians.
Rubin argues that the strategies employed by Arab liberals to address such sentiments are of central importance. One approach centers on changing perceptions of America, and identifying shared values between the United States and the Arab world, he writes.
Rubin cites Abd al-Hamid al-Ansari, former dean of Sharia and law at Qatar University, as a proponent of this tactic. Ansari has argued that reform in the Middle East requires external support, and therefore Arab reformers should not view Washington as hostile.
However, this method is rare, Rubin wrote. "Seldom does the Arab debate go beyond mirror-imaging arguments to the analysis so typical in the Western approach to the Middle East," he wrote.
An alternative, and perhaps more commonplace, strategy relies on the use of anti-American rhetoric to advance the liberal agenda. For many Arab liberals, the value of this approach lies in the provision of a counterweight to nationalist accusations of disloyalty to Arabism.
Many Arab reformers are subject to charges that they are tools of U.S. imperialism and, by extension, Zionism, Rubin wrote. This induces some liberals to criticize American actions in order to separate their own demands for reform from U.S policy.
Many Arab liberals have adopted the anti-American approach to further a more proactive aim. Rubin wrote, "U.S. sponsorship of democracy has not won it favor in the Arab world. This does not mean, however, that it has weakened the pro-reform camp," he wrote.
Saudi columnist Daoud Shirian has suggested that an independent Arab media would remove the American justification for intervention.
The use of anti-American sentiments by Arab liberal reformers often undercuts their own agenda, Rubin wrote. By subscribing to anti-Americanism, liberals fortify the status quo and strengthen "the ruling doctrine's hold over millions of Arabs who have been taught that their dictators are defending them against the United States," he wrote.
This serves to "reinforce the existing system that defers real debate by blaming the United States for everything wrong in the Arab world."
Can the United States ever play an effective role in promoting democracy in the Arab world? According to Rubin, "Arab liberal assessment varies. Some enthusiastically say, yes; others suggest the United States should restrict itself to policies more to the Arab's liking."
Rubin also suggests that even among those who seek U.S. assistance, the current world climate raises doubts as to whether help will be forthcoming.
In the context of the continuing war on terror, Rubin argues that existing Arab regimes, aware of their importance to Washington, feel a certain immunity to U.S attempts at democratization.
Also, many liberals question whether Washington will sponsor democracy at the risk of installing radical Islamist groups. Indeed in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood provide the most significant political opposition to the Mubarak regime, while Hamas' victory in the Palestinian elections showed that genuinely democratic elections do not automatically propel friends of the United States to power.