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Promoting Democracy in the Greater Middle East

American and European leaders are talking about the need to promote reform in the "Greater Middle East." Americans see this as the key battleground in the war on terror, and Europeans want stable, responsive governments that stem the flow of illegal migration and organized crime. Both sides accept that working with local partners for peaceful democratic change today is the best way to avoid violent revolution or military action tomorrow.

This enthusiasm for reform marks a paradigm shift. In the past, other interests, such as securing a steady flow of oil or obtaining cooperation on counter-terrorism, assumed priority. But, despite flourishing rhetoric about promoting democracy, promoting it is still not backed with concrete plans of action. A serious strategy must do three things: increase support for the region's democrats; create a regional context that facilitates democratic development; and, finally, reorganize ourselves at home to pursue and sustain pro-democracy policies abroad.

First, while the West must play a critical supporting role, change must come from within the region. Our task is to strengthen indigenous political forces pushing for democratic change. In many countries, democratic activists sit in jail because of their commitment to human rights - and little is done to help them. No senior American or European leader should visit the region without raising human rights and defending individuals fighting for democracy.

In practical terms, the West must increase its direct support for local NGOs and campaigners (although in countries like Egypt it will first need to get the Government to change the law so that they can receive foreign funding). Whereas the US now spends nearly $400 billion on defense, the National Endowment for Democracy lives on a budget of some $40 million, a fraction of which is spent in the Greater Middle East. Support should be raised tenfold or even more to make a real impact. The EU should increase its democracy promotion efforts to at least €500 million a year.