How can Europe and the United States support democratic transitions in a way that is acceptable to the Arab countries, effective in inducing genuine change, and affordable at a time when both continents are confronting fiscal crises? The best instruments available are enhanced trade agreements that not only promote market access, but even more importantly maximize competitiveness-enhancing and job-promoting reforms in the Arab countries. The pre-uprising Western Policies—pressing recalcitrant Arab leaders to undertake top-down political reforms while building civil society capacity to generate bottom-up demand—have been overtaken by events in at least a significant minority of countries. There is now an explicit commitment to democratize, deeply-rooted in the general will of the people. The question is not whether, but how to do it.
Analogous to the process that successfully drew the formerly planned economies of Eastern Europe to liberal democracy, what is needed is a new and compelling vision for closer and more equitable economic relations both among Arab countries and between them and the trans-Atlantic community. Reflecting the global interest in successful transitions, the initiative should also mobilize assistance from large oil-importing countries outside of Europe and the United States. It should also draw on help from Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States which, though clearly ambivalent about the democratic transitions in their Arab neighbors, have a vital interest in their growth and stability. To these ends, new trade agreements should be far deeper and more comprehensive than those currently in force and contain many of the elements included in Eastern European countries’ accession agreements, including a bold multi-year trade assistance initiative designed to bolster competitiveness and the role of the private sector in the Arab countries.
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