Shadi Hamid: I think what we might be seeing is a pan-Arab democratic moment. I think there really is an opportunity for the United States to get on the right side of this and align itself with Arab popular aspirations. I mean, in the United States there’s been all this talk about U.S. influence declining in the Middle East. Now there is an opening for the U.S. to recast its relationship with the Arab world and fundamentally reorient its foreign policy, because up until now it has been based around these so-called stable, autocratic regimes, but what we’ve seen in Egypt and Tunisia is the end of the stability paradigm. I hope that the United States understands that and now can really push forward and be with Arab populations.
Shadi Hamid: It’s no longer going to be the United States siding with regimes against their own citizens. That can totally change how Arabs perceive the United States, in terms of America’s credibility in the region. I think it’s worth noting – I don’t know if it’s been publicized widely – but in President Obama’s first or second speech about Egypt, where he said “the transition must begin now” and emphasized the “now”, that was played through much of Tahrir Square and applause broke out. People were excited to hear Obama saying that. So, as much as there still is anti-Americanism in the region, there is still a sense that Arabs look to the United for more leadership. They may not expect to get it, and they’re likely to be disappointed, but there is still a sense that the United States has the potential to play a better more constructive role in the region. I think that we, as Americans, should recognize that and run with it. People are looking for leadership right now and I think, at least on the issue of democracy, the United States is well-placed to be on the right side of this. Egypt will have to organize free and fair elections for the first time in six decades. The United States can provide the kind of assistance and expertise that may be necessary to actually make that happen.
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My biggest concern is that Washington is signaling to Russia that it’s OK to meddle in the politics of sovereign nations which are your neighbors. Meddling is going on from Paris to Ukraine, from east to west and north to south, within Europe and at its borders, and always with the intent of undermining the credibility and effectiveness of democratic institutions. And it is being either denied or downplayed.