The New Arab Awakening

Why Middle East moderates need to seize the opportunity in Egypt to craft a new political movement.

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.

Fourth, we must inject a much greater sense of urgency into the search for a two-state solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The legitimate anger felt by many at the ongoing injustices suffered by the Palestinian people is being exploited by extremists to garner support for their own illegitimate causes. The moderates in the Arab world, in Israel, and in the Quartet, should grasp this opportunity to come together strongly behind the Arab Peace Initiative -- and be prepared to take some political risks in order to find a solution. Furthermore, the U.S. government must show leadership and resolve to reach a mutually acceptable solution with all parties. 

Fifth, vulnerable countries and revolutionary movements are at great risk of being undermined and influenced by extremist leaders in other countries. We must help these countries and movements to deal with problems like the additional pressures caused by refugee populations or by acting decisively to stem the flow of young men, many radicalized, from traveling to fight in Syria. And the international community must send a clear and unified message that extremist governments must refrain from meddling in the internal affairs of other countries or risk isolation or other, more profound, consequences.

Finally, if we've learned anything from Egypt and from the transitions in the region, it is that promulgating ideology is no replacement for creating opportunity. We need an urgent and concerted effort to provide education, create jobs, and build aspiration. Young people need to have a sense of purpose, but rampant unemployment and poverty in the region undercuts this message and provides fuel for radicalization. Extremist groups prey on these vulnerabilities. Our response should focus on promoting responsive and inclusive governance, investing in education and healthcare, and creating the conditions for people to be able to build better lives for themselves.

These are the pillars for success for moderates in the region. But while building these pillars takes time, Egypt needs our help now. Foreign assistance is a start, but a functioning government that provides needed services for its citizens and fosters economic growth is critical for long-term stability.

Of course, other nations across the region also face grave and immediate dangers -- and each country must be allowed to plot its own path.  But these countries should be encouraged and supported to accept, promote, and protect universal values of tolerance and openness. And they should not be asked to go it alone. The United Arab Emirates and like-minded friends in the international community should be there to support them in this urgent task.

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National Security


Taking in Snowden didn't go exactly as the Kremlin had planned.

The Snowden case provides both a reality check and an interesting insight into U.S.-Russia relations. Here are the facts: Edward Snowden, a whistleblower to some and a traitor to others, was certainly not a Russian spy. His arrival at Sheremetyevo International Airport was part of a complicated plan that had gone awry. Snowden was handed off by China, was let down by Ecuador, and then got stuck in Moscow. Russia did not expel Snowden to the United States, but neither did it use him as a propaganda asset by giving him asylum and allowing him to hold press conferences. Moscow's fragile relationship with Washington was strained as a result, but Russia demonstrated that it is one of the few countries in the world that is prepared to stand up to the United States.

One can only guess at what level a decision was taken in Moscow allowing Snowden to board the Aeroflot flight in Hong Kong bound for Sheremetyevo. It is certainly true that Russia's state-run media trumpeted the former CIA employee's revelations -- including the details of the PRISM program, the eavesdropping on conversations of G-20 leaders, and the snooping on EU delegations in Washington and New York -- as evidence of the "true nature" of U.S. foreign policy, confounding Washington's claim to the moral high ground. Like Julian Assange and Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, in the Kremlin's eyes, has played a useful function in exposing what President Vladimir Putin calls U.S. government hypocrisy.

This is, however, where Russia's collaboration stopped. Putin may have been sympathetic to helping Snowden reach some safe haven where the United States would not be able to get him, but he was adamant that Russian security services had never tried to "work with him." The Russian president also suggested -- unbelievably to many Americans -- that Moscow's price for granting Snowden asylum would be his agreement to stop any further leaks that damaged, as Putin put it, "our American partners." The Kremlin leader does not mind, to say the least, Snowden's revelations, which cut the U.S. government's ethical pretensions down to size, but he does not want Russia to serve as a platform for Washington's current public enemy No. 1 -- not eight weeks before President Barack Obama is scheduled to visit Moscow. Putin's terms were clear: If Snowden agrees to keep mum, he may stay; if he insists on talking, he should leave. The problem, of course, was that no one would take him.

Where does the Snowden case leave us with respect to U.S.-Russia relations? Those Russian officials who were evidently involved in organizing Snowden's passage from Hong Kong to Latin America via Sheremetyevo probably sought to capitalize on the U.S. government's embarrassment in compensation for the recently increased U.S. and European criticism of the Kremlin's policies. The plan, however, went awry. By the time he reached Sheremetyevo, Snowden's U.S. passport had been revoked, and no promised travel documents from Ecuador had arrived. Russia, which had been meant to be a mere conduit in the operation, suddenly became Snowden's temporary home.

No one should have expected Moscow to simply hand over the American fugitive to U.S. officials: Russia, after all, is not a U.S. ally. One can easily imagine Putin asking whether, if a "Russian Snowden" turned up at JFK, he or she would be immediately extradited to Moscow -- or awarded some freedom prize instead. A rhetorical question. Scores of Russian citizens who have fallen afoul of the Kremlin populate the United States (and the United Kingdom), and Moscow's demands for their extradition have been routinely rejected.

Moscow had hoped to pay a minimal price for co-organizing Snowden's passage, but it did not become afraid of Washington when things went wrong. American attempts to pressure the Russians, as Secretary of State John Kerry appeared to do at one point, only hardened their stance. "We never extradite anyone [to the West], and nobody extradites anyone to us," Putin quipped. "At best, we exchange people."

As potential swaps are concerned, the Russians have their wish list ready. It includes the arms dealer Viktor Bout and the commercial pilot Alexander Yaroshenko, both arrested outside the United States, brought to America for trial, and sentenced to long prison terms. Moscow also wants a mutual extradition treaty with the United States, which Washington balks at, ostensibly because the Russian Constitution -- like the Constitution of France, a country that has such an agreement with the United States -- prohibits extradition of Russian citizens. These are pipe dreams. Obama has publicly refused "barter deals," and the U.S. Congress is unwilling to hand over fugitive Russians, other than common criminals, to their authoritarian government.

The Snowden case has also exposed interesting features and fissures within the non-Western world. Beijing benefited most from the incident because it conveniently blunted Obama's accusations of Chinese hacking at precisely the time of the meeting between Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping last month. By welcoming Snowden to Hong Kong, the special status of which does not interfere with the Chinese Public Security Ministry's freedom to operate, Beijing was probably able to look into the laptops Snowden was carrying. Finally, China was able to wash its hands of the whole affair by handing Snowden off to Aeroflot for onward journey. True, it has not escaped all U.S. criticism for its behavior, but the price was slight in comparison to the payoff in both propaganda and intelligence.

The Latin Americans have been more mercurial. Ecuador, which had been expected to deliver travel documents to Snowden so that he could pass through Sheremetyevo, has failed to do so. Bolivia was furious over the treatment of its presidential plane in Europe's skies, especially since it was not smuggling Snowden out of Moscow. Cuba has been keeping a very low profile throughout, at a time when Raúl Castro is seeking improved relations with the United States in order to help revive the Cuban economy. Of the Latin leftists, that leaves only Venezuela and Nicaragua as potential safe havens. It is now crucial for Moscow that either Caracas or Managua accept Snowden, and do so soon. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro must have heard that directly from Putin in Moscow 10 days ago. The Russian leader certainly has no interest in keeping the American at Sheremetyevo, as Obama is scheduled to visit Russia in early September.

In hindsight, Russia obviously miscalculated when it allowed Snowden to board the Moscow-bound flight. It then managed to put on a brave face and demonstrated its ability to stand up to the United States by refusing to bow to Washington's pressure. Unlike China, however, Russia has gained nothing from the Snowden incident. Moreover, it has had to accept the problems that Snowden brought with him. Looking ahead, Snowden's case will probably not wreck the upcoming U.S.-Russia summit. His stay in Sheremetyevo, however, has definitely contributed to the already charged atmosphere of U.S.-Russia relations. A "repeat of the reset" will not do. The relationship needs new software.