2013 Plenary 2: Bloody Autocracy, Religious Kleptocracy, Unstable Democracy: In Search of Better Choices for the Middle East (and Beyond)

Panelists disagreed on the role of the West, particularly the United States, in the path forward to establishing democratic systems in the Middle East. There was agreement that establishing democracy takes time and that some degree of patience is required – examples of the unstable paths that America and Europe took towards democracy were cited. Panelists were pressed on American leadership in the Middle East in the context of waning public opinion for U.S. participation in global politics and war weariness, domestic budget constraints and other stated foreign policy priorities, such as “the pivot to Asia.” Given the history of how power is exercised in the Middle East, including the assertion that whoever has power has all the power, unfettered and presenting no alternatives, questions were posed about the effectiveness of conventional democratic electoral systems. The panel analyzed recent events in Egypt, Libya and the Arab Spring and how they relate to the current situation in Syria. Additionally, panelists questioned the focus of the international community on governments and their actions as opposed to the effects of these actions on “the ground” in local populations.