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Arab Liberalism and Democracy in the Middle East: A Panel Discussion

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Reproduced by permission of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal (December 2004).

TAMARA COFMAN WITTES: I want to thank
Barry for setting up my remarks so well. I
don’t want to dispute the essential analysis
that he has given, which is that liberals are
weak, are limited in number and influence,
and face a tremendous series of dilemmas
when they attempt to act in the political
sphere. What I will differ with him on,
though, is the root of that difficult situation,
and what might be done to change it and to
give liberals a better shot.

In the last few weeks, we have seen
some written analyses of Arab liberalism
that argue that liberal elites are increasingly
aging, increasingly isolated, and
diminishing in number. They are said to be
an endangered species. It is stated that they
are not the vanguard of democracy in the
Middle East, Islamists are. The implication
of all these expert opinions is that it is
perhaps misguided, or even folly, for U.S.
policy to embrace and to support this
beleaguered and. perhaps ultimately,
hapless group as the centerpiece of its
efforts to democratize the Arab world.

What I would like to do is to probe
the common wisdom about Arab liberals on
several points that center around this
question of what U.S. policy attitudes
towards this group should be.

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