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Promoting Democracy in the Middle East: The Problem of U.S. Credibility

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After decades of giving relatively little attention to the possibility and problems of democracy in the Middle East, the U.S. foreign policy community has in the past year elevated the issue to a position of central importance. In this working paper, Marina Ottaway highlights a problem of fundamental significance--the lack of credibility that the United States has in the Arab world when it presents itself as a pro-democratic actor.

Although many Americans may feel that America's bona fides as a pro-democratic actor are unquestionable, the stubborn fact remains that many people in other parts of the world, especially the Middle East, have a different opinion. If left unaddressed, this credibility gap will undermine even the most well-intentioned efforts by the United States to promote positive political change in the region. While recognizing that there are no instant solutions to this problem, the paper identifies ways the United States can begin to alleviate the gap and in so doing pave the way for a genuine, lasting democratic engagement with the Middle East.