- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY

A Washington-based institute dedicated to promoting democracy in Muslim nations has gathered nearly 600 signatures from scholars and human rights activists on an open letter to President Obama, urging him to champion freedom in the Islamic world.

In an appeal for even more signatures this week, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy invited supporters to sign the letter on its Web site (www.csidonline.org).

“We are still collecting signatures for the ‘Open Letter to President Obama,’ urging him to make support for human rights and democracy in the Middle East and the Muslim world one of the main priorities of his administration, as it continues to engage with the people and the governments of the Muslim world,” said Radwan A. Masmoudi, the center’s founder and president.

The letter is critical of U.S. policy toward the Middle East through both Republican and Democratic presidential administrations. It accused the Bush administration for “turning its back on Middle East democracy.” Former President George W. Bush’s supporters often cite the fledgling democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan as examples of his advocacy of democratic change in Muslim nations.

“For too long, U.S. policy toward the Middle East has been fundamentally misguided,” the letter says.

“The United States for half a century has frequently supported repressive regimes that routinely violate human rights, and that torture and imprison those who dare criticize them and prevent their citizens from participation in peaceful civic and political activities.

“U.S. support for Arab autocrats was supposed to serve U.S. national interests and regional stability. In reality, it produced a region increasingly tormented by rampant corruption, extremism and instability.”

The letter urged Mr. Obama to “rebuild relations” in the Muslim world and stand on the “right side of history.”

“The U.S. should not hesitate to speak out in condemnation when opposition activists are unjustly imprisoned in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia or elsewhere,” it said.

The letter cited Indonesia, Morocco and Turkey as Islamic countries with “reasonably credible and open elections.”

“In short, we have an unprecedented opportunity to send a clear message to the Arab and Muslim world: the United States will support all those who strive for freedom, democracy and human rights,” it said.

The letter’s signatories include democracy advocates from organizations such as Freedom House and Human Rights Watch and from experts from think tanks such as the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the Council on Foreign Relations.

KAZAKH DEMOCRACY

The U.S. ambassador to Kazakhstan thinks the Central Asian nation is “on a democratic path,” although foreign observers have never certified a presidential election in the former Soviet republic as free and fair.

“Is Kazakhstan a fully mature democracy with all the institutions of democracy firmly in place?” Ambassador Richard E. Hoagland asked rhetorically in a speech at the Kazakh Humanitarian and Law University last month.

“Well, probably not,” he answered. “But is it on the democratic path? Yes, I really think so.”

Mr. Hoagland said he based his conclusion on observations of ordinary Kazakh citizens who challenge the “high-handedness of government officials” and who work together to build civic institutions, which he called the backbone of democracy.

Kazakhstan next year is due to chair the 56-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, although the OSCE has regularly cited Kazakh elections for failing to meet democratic standards. Nursultan Nazarbayev has been the country’s only president since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

&#8226 Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail James Morrison

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