Analysis: Looking For A Few Good Mideast Democrats

WASHINGTON (AP) - Wanted: Moderate, Western-leaning Mideast leaders willing to be friends with Israel and cooperate in the fight against Islamic extremism while protecting human rights. Commitment to democracy and support from military essential. English, executive management experience and knowledge of social media a plus.

Oh, and could you make sure you stick around? The U.S. needs somebody to count on if it's going to spend a few billions on you.

That's the impossible wish list from the Obama administration after popular uprisings Egypt and Tunisia ousted two long-serving and close but deeply flawed U.S. allies in stunning rebellions that many believe will spread.

This dream resume doesn't exist and isn't likely to appear soon. Part of the reason is that American administrations for the past four decades sacrificed the lofty human rights ideals they espoused for the sake of stability, continuity and oil in one of the world's most volatile regions.

U.S. programs to encourage Arab governments to cooperate with civic leaders, students and activists to modernize their economies and ease strict laws limiting political participation were met with disdain as autocrats and potentates ignored them. Washington acquiesced even as underground extremist movements gained steam.

Now as Egyptians and Tunisians revel in dictators' departures and President Barack Obama's White House salutes the triumph of freedom over repression, his administration is looking for a few good friends in the Middle East.

From Morocco and Algeria to Saudi Arabia and Yemen, there are no clear candidates to usher in the kind of transformation that people, particularly the educated young, are demanding in those countries.

"Egypt will never be the same," Obama said as he welcomed the departure of Hosni Mubarak on Friday.

Maybe not.

But Mubarak's departure has left his country in the hands of the military, which is stacked with people who owe their careers to the former president and his cronies.

Even opposition activists acknowledge it will take many months to create the conditions for free and fair elections and for credible new leaders to emerge.

Through their peaceful protests, Obama said, Egyptians "changed their country, and in doing so changed the world."

Maybe. But not yet.

Even though governments around the Arab world are nervous, there is no sign that entrenched elites in Egypt and Tunisia are willing to cede the power and vast economic leverage they have enjoyed. Nor is there a guarantee that if they do, their successors won't do the same thing.

The Obama administration has insisted ever since President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia last month - a day after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Arab leaders in a speech in Qatar that without reform the foundations of their countries were "sinking into the sand" - that change was not about "personalities."

Really? Maybe that was true in Washington.

Not so much in the streets of Tunis or Cairo where the protesters made clear it was all personal. Mubarak and Ben Ali, personalities who symbolized their countries for more than a generation, had to go.

Their willingness to do Washington's bidding is part of what made them objects of disdain at home.

Thus, in Jordan, a popular king has sacked his government. In Algeria and Yemen, authoritarian presidents have promised to repeal repressive emergency laws. The opposition in Syria and Saudi Arabia is watching closely, as are nervous monarchs in the Arab Gulf states.

Across the Persian Gulf in non-Arab Iran, reformers appear to have been inspired to revive street protests against the Islamic government that were brutally crushed after elections two years ago.

Obama, in calls Saturday to the leaders of Jordan, Turkey and Britain, stressed "his conviction that democracy will bring more - not less - stability to the region," according to the White House.

It's too early to predict if Egypt and Tunisia will prove to be templates for revolts that topple leaders around the region. It's premature to write off their rebellions as failing to produce change.

But as the U.S. and the rest of the world ask who's next to go, Washington is also asking whether there's anyone out there to answer that want-ad.

___

EDITOR'S NOTE - Matthew Lee covers U.S. foreign policy for The Associated Press in Washington.WASHINGTON (AP) - Wanted: Moderate, Western-leaning Mideast leaders willing to be friends with Israel and cooperate in the fight against Islamic extremism while protecting human rights. Commitment to democracy and support from military essential. English, executive management experience and knowledge of social media a plus.

Oh, and could you make sure you stick around? The U.S. needs somebody to count on if it's going to spend a few billions on you.

That's the impossible wish list from the Obama administration after popular uprisings Egypt and Tunisia ousted two long-serving and close but deeply flawed U.S. allies in stunning rebellions that many believe will spread.

This dream resume doesn't exist and isn't likely to appear soon. Part of the reason is that American administrations for the past four decades sacrificed the lofty human rights ideals they espoused for the sake of stability, continuity and oil in one of the world's most volatile regions.

U.S. programs to encourage Arab governments to cooperate with civic leaders, students and activists to modernize their economies and ease strict laws limiting political participation were met with disdain as autocrats and potentates ignored them. Washington acquiesced even as underground extremist movements gained steam.

Now as Egyptians and Tunisians revel in dictators' departures and President Barack Obama's White House salutes the triumph of freedom over repression, his administration is looking for a few good friends in the Middle East.

From Morocco and Algeria to Saudi Arabia and Yemen, there are no clear candidates to usher in the kind of transformation that people, particularly the educated young, are demanding in those countries.

"Egypt will never be the same," Obama said as he welcomed the departure of Hosni Mubarak on Friday.

Maybe not.

But Mubarak's departure has left his country in the hands of the military, which is stacked with people who owe their careers to the former president and his cronies.

Even opposition activists acknowledge it will take many months to create the conditions for free and fair elections and for credible new leaders to emerge.

Through their peaceful protests, Obama said, Egyptians "changed their country, and in doing so changed the world."

Maybe. But not yet.

Even though governments around the Arab world are nervous, there is no sign that entrenched elites in Egypt and Tunisia are willing to cede the power and vast economic leverage they have enjoyed. Nor is there a guarantee that if they do, their successors won't do the same thing.

The Obama administration has insisted ever since President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fled Tunisia last month - a day after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned Arab leaders in a speech in Qatar that without reform the foundations of their countries were "sinking into the sand" - that change was not about "personalities."

Really? Maybe that was true in Washington.

Not so much in the streets of Tunis or Cairo where the protesters made clear it was all personal. Mubarak and Ben Ali, personalities who symbolized their countries for more than a generation, had to go.

Their willingness to do Washington's bidding is part of what made them objects of disdain at home.

Thus, in Jordan, a popular king has sacked his government. In Algeria and Yemen, authoritarian presidents have promised to repeal repressive emergency laws. The opposition in Syria and Saudi Arabia is watching closely, as are nervous monarchs in the Arab Gulf states.

Across the Persian Gulf in non-Arab Iran, reformers appear to have been inspired to revive street protests against the Islamic government that were brutally crushed after elections two years ago.

Obama, in calls Saturday to the leaders of Jordan, Turkey and Britain, stressed "his conviction that democracy will bring more - not less - stability to the region," according to the White House.

It's too early to predict if Egypt and Tunisia will prove to be templates for revolts that topple leaders around the region. It's premature to write off their rebellions as failing to produce change.

But as the U.S. and the rest of the world ask who's next to go, Washington is also asking whether there's anyone out there to answer that want-ad.

___

EDITOR'S NOTE - Matthew Lee covers U.S. foreign policy for The Associated Press in Washington.

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