The Mideast and Myopia


You may have already heard about the NYT Magazine's controversial Kerry cover piece. A discussion on NPR this morning suggested the story was damaging to Kerry, Eugene Volokh has reacted to Kerry's remarkable comparison of international terrorism and gambling prosecutions here and here, and the GOP is reportedly planning an ad campaign based on that very quote.

In the meantime, the print edition of the magazine features a different pull quote from Kerry that spreads across pages 40-41. Challenging the administration's Mideast strategy, Kerry asks, "Do you ever hear anything about this greater Middle East initiative, the concepts or anything? No," he answers himself. "I think we're fighting a very narrow, myopic kind of war."

Liberals across the Arab world, however, seem to feel differently. This morning, WaPo columnist Jackson Diehl writes that, despite the frequent sneers, "the Bush administration's democracy initiative for the rest of the Middle East creeps quietly forward."

There's diplomatic progress involving various Arab governments, Diehl writes, but "More intriguingly, independent human rights groups and pro-democracy movements around the region are continuing to sprout . . . An independent human rights group appeared in Syria this month; Saudi women organized a movement to demand the right to vote in upcoming municipal elections. On the same day that the Egyptian foreign minister belittled what is now called the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative (BMENA) in an interview with The Post, an unprecedented alliance of opposition parties and citizens' groups issued a platform in Cairo calling for the lifting of emergency laws, freedom of the press and direct, multi-candidate elections for president.

"While there have been some arrests, most of the nascent democrats are surviving. Despite all the defiant rhetoric, Egyptian and Saudi police, it turns out, are hesitant to pummel people who say they are responding to the president of the United States."

As Diehl notes, representatives of civil society groups from across the Middle East met in Beirut last month. Their statement was delivered to a gathering of foreign ministers in New York by Noha Mikawi, an Egyptian woman. "We are here as individuals," Mikawi said, "women and men who believe in the rule of law, an independent judiciary to protect it, an active and freely elected parliament to enact laws, an accountable, freely elected government to carry them through, and in meaningful human rights, including foremost the freedom of expression. . . .

"What we can confidently claim to represent is a pressing voice in our societies that calls for a profound, nonviolent change at all levels."

Diehl believes that "Such empowering grass-roots rhetoric has never before been heard in the Arab Middle East. If the United States fails in Iraq, it may well be snuffed out. But for now, for those who are listening, it offers reason for hope."