The rejection by Egyptians of their Islamist government marks a turning point -- not only for that country, but for the entire Middle East. Over the course of the past couple weeks, the Egyptian people have made a clear and powerful statement that political Islam cannot and should not be allowed to suppress the broader popular will for moderation and tolerance. Islamism, or any ideology for that matter, is no replacement for competent and responsible leadership. But let us not discount this momentous opportunity: the second Egyptian revolution is a bellwether for moderates in the region who should now seek to regain the initiative.
The Arab Spring has given voice to Arab peoples eager for dignity, for change, and for inclusion. But this call for tolerance risks being drowned out by an increase in violence, an unwelcome rise in sectarianism, the uncertain role of Islamist political groups, the growth in foreign meddling by regional aggressors, and a deepening economic crisis. The voice of moderation, the spirit of compassion, and the respect for others must be nurtured and protected.
Now is the time to implement a new agenda -- endorsed and promoted by like-minded countries from within the region and beyond. This approach needs to represent an urgent, consistent, and linked effort to bolster Egypt's moderates and prevent extremists from taking any more advantage of the Arab Spring. The United Arab Emirates has just delivered $3 billion in aid to Egypt's interim government to help see it through this crisis, but that's just the beginning. What is needed is a broad, six-part program to craft a new moderate political agenda in the Middle East.
First, we need to resolutely oppose the rise in sectarian politics that serves only to sow division and conflict, rather than unity and dialogue. In many countries, from Syria to Iraq, we are witnessing a dangerous widening in the Sunni-Shiite divide and sharp divisions even within Sunni Islam. There has also been the persecution of Christian and other minorities, encouraged by those who see it as in their narrow political interest to provoke such tensions. We need to stand firm in support of the principles of religious tolerance and pluralism, both practicing them at home and advocating dialogue across the region.
Second, it is imperative that we do our utmost to prevent extremist groups from exploiting the emerging political vacuum to seize power and foster instability. Groups with well-organized international networks, such as the Muslim Brotherhood or al Qaeda, have used the transitions in the region as an opportunity to divert people to their cause and to impose a very narrow and dangerous interpretation of Islam. We must provide support to moderate voices and help build strong and competent institutions as an alternative to the vacant promises of political Islam.
Third, as part of our resolve to take on the extremists, we need to redouble our commitment to the empowerment of women. We must reassert every girl's right to an education, ensure women play leading roles in public and political life, and strive to protect women from violence and repression by ideologues who act in the name of a false religiosity. There can be no moderate political force in the Middle East without women at the heart of defining what kinds of societies emerge from the changes occurring across the region.