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The Arab world suffers from a debilitating democracy deficit. The region's ruling governments' antipathy for pluralism, political dissent, and free speech have helped to incubate extremism by denying outlets for peaceful expression to all but a privileged few.
In U.S. policy circles, even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, conventional wisdom remained that partnerships with illiberal Arab governments, no matter how unsavory, would best serve U.S. national security. Following September 11, 2001, however, most U.S. policymakers concluded that promoting democracy was not only the best antidote for the region's woes, but also Washington's best safeguard against future attacks.
No sooner had this tectonic shift in U.S. foreign policy occurred, however, than questions about its viability and wisdom arose. Do democrats exist in the Arab world? Are Arab societies fit for democratic self-government? Will Islamist extremism wrongly benefit from popular participation?
To try the efficacy of pro-democracy policies in the Arab world, the American Enterprise Institute initiated the "Dissent and Reform in the Arab World" project. Directed by Danielle Pletka, vice president of foreign and defense policy studies, and Michael Rubin, resident scholar, the project commissioned essays from Arab reformers and activists who championed the causes of liberal democracy long before such calls ever reverberated in Western capitals. Together, these authentic voices dispel the fiction that the Arab world is infertile ground for democracy.
Danielle Pletka is vice president of foreign and defense policy studies at AEI.
Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at AEI.
Jeffrey Azarva is a research assistant at AEI.