In a video debate on bloggingheads.tv, Shadi Hamid discusses prospects for democracy in the Muslim world and what America’s role and expectations should be in the democratization process. Below are excerpts from Hamid’s remarks during the debate.
“If there were free and fair elections in the Arab world today most of these countries’ groups or parties that we don’t like would probably come to power. I’m talking primarily about Islamist parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and similar groups. We have to ask ourselves a difficult question here if we are really sincere about democracy and we believe in it. If we really consider ourselves democrats than we have to accept the fact that groups we don’t like might come to power. And, as far as I’m concerned, as long as they fulfill two conditions – renouncing violence and committing to participation in the democratic process – I think we have to respect the right of those groups to participate.”
“It’s very challenging from a policy standpoint to figure out what to do about groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, because they have not renounced violence. I think we have an opportunity here, from an American perspective, to at least engage the groups that are nonviolent and peacefully participate in the political process. I should also mention groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, or the PGD in Morocco; they have all become more moderate overtime. If you look at them in the 1980s compared to the present day, these groups have made impressive strides on a variety of indicators, whether that’s their position toward democracy, pluralism, women’s rights or protection of minority rights. Granted, they still have a long way to go. They’re not liberal. We should not be under any illusion that these groups, once they come to power, are magically going to turn into perfect American liberals. These are socially conservative parties that have a particular worldview and we should be up front about this. That is why they’re popular in their societies – precisely because they are conservative. If they were liberals they wouldn’t be popular. I think we have an opportunity here to at least open a serious dialogue and engage with these groups in a serious way, and to learn more about them and have them learn more about us.”
I think it's unusual for the chief of staff to go on a trip, particularly on a trip this long. The chief of staff is usually more of a chief operating officer in the White House itself, and normally when your principal—whether it's the president himself or the head of Cabinet agency—goes abroad, you have his deputy and those folks staying behind to help manage operations in his absence.