US to work with Arab Spring’s Islamist parties
US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton looks at the audience after addressing the National Democratic Institute’s 2011 Democracy Awards Dinner in Washington, Monday, Nov 7. AP photoU.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton declared Nov. 7 that the Obama administration would work with ascendant Islamist parties in the Muslim world, such as those who enjoyed a recent election victory in Tunisia, answering one of the central U.S. policy questions resulting from the Arab Spring.
The United States shares “their desire to see a Tunisian democracy emerge,” she told an audience National Democratic Institute in Washington, in an address that emphasized: “Not all Islamists are alike.” What parties call themselves, she added, “is less important to us than what they actually do.” Tunisia’s main Islamist party Ennahda swept the polls in a landmark vote last month over their main challenger, the secular center-left PDP party.
To govern, Clinton said, the party must “persuade secular parties to work with them ... America will work with them, too,” and noted that the group’s leaders have “have promised to embrace freedom of religion and full rights for women.” The top U.S. diplomat listed key criteria any party must meet in a democracy, including the rejection of violence, adherence to the rule of law, and respect for the rights of women and minorities, and an acceptance of electoral defeats. After decades of partnering with dictators throughout the region, her message was that the U.S. would approach the new political landscape with an open mind and the understanding that long-term support for democracy trumps any short-term advantages through alliances with authoritarian regimes. However she said nothing about changing U.S. policies toward Hezbollah and Hamas, which have performed well in Lebanese and Palestinian elections but are considered foreign terrorist organizations by the U.S.
‘Times when all interests do not align’
The one-size-does-not-fit-all approach has meant U.S. support for an imperfect military stewardship over Egypt ahead of elections and largely overlooking ally Bahrain’s rough response to protests earlier this year. Washington helped a military effort that deposed Moammar Gadhafi. It also demanded that leaders in Syria and Yemen leave power.
“There will be times when not all of our interests align,” Clinton said. “That is just reality.” Still, she moved to counter an increasingly common criticism from Republicans that the Obama administration’s boisterous support for the Arab Spring has foolishly opened the door to Islamist takeovers of secular governments. Clinton took a hard-line, deriding the suggestion that faithful Muslims cannot thrive in a democracy as “insulting, dangerous and wrong.” She said the U.S. would work with any individuals and parties willing to uphold fundamental values. Clinton said real power needed to be transferred in Egypt immediately and warned Syrian President al-Assad. “Those leaders trying to hold back the future at the point of a gun should know their days are numbered.” Clinton said.