President Obama has reportedly included $770 million for “a Middle East and North Africa Incentive Fund,” which “will provide incentives for long-term economic, political, and trade reforms to countries in transition — and to countries prepared to make reforms proactively.”
The Obama administration has consistently flubbed its Arab Spring policy. Prior to the uprisings, the Obama administration eviscerated outreach to Arab liberals and reformers.
Then, because of Obama’s desire to lead from behind, he pushed countries like Qatar and Turkey to the diplomatic forefront, a move which because of the agendas of both Doha and Ankara, privileged more militant and Islamist factions inside transitional countries. The White House and State Department then failed to utilize its leverage during the transitional period to achieve election systems that would better preserve checks-and-balances.
Now, in Egypt and elsewhere, Islamists are in the driver’s seat. When the Muslim Brotherhood becomes the “moderate” faction, it’s clear something has gone wrong.
The biggest mistake, however, is the one which the Obama administration now makes.
When I was traveling in the Persian Gulf region a couple of weeks ago, a consistent point made by liberal intellectuals was there might be a silver lining to the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and harder line Islamists.
The Islamist parties thrived in opposition because they could promise the world, but faced no economic accountability. Now that the Muslim Brotherhood dominates Egypt and across the region, it owns the fact that its populist statements come at an economic price, one which the Egyptian economy can’t bear. By bailing out the faltering economy, Obama is in effect bailing out the Muslim Brotherhood and undercutting its electoral accountability.
Rather than assist regimes whose incitement makes clear their enmity, a strategically sounder American policy would be to work toward ensuring the sanctity of elections and the democratic process so that if Arab voters come to their senses, they can peacefully remove Islamist despots and not suffer the fate their Iranian brethren now endure.