It has been more than a month that the people of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) are demanding improved rights, representation, and socioeconomic development. And yet, muffled in the calls for liberty, is a low murmur uttered by people around the world who are concerned, and rightfully so, that today’s freedom fighters may be opening a sociopolitical Pandora’s Box, out of which will come a militant takeover by anti-democratic forces. The fear is that today’s rebels and protestors who are disorganized and well-meaning when it comes to changing the region’s leaders will create an opening to be exploited tomorrow by those who are better organized, power-obsessed, and who have nefarious intentions for those who do not fit their world view. It is really no surprise this turmoil is occurring. The world economy is struggling. Food prices are up. And the Middle East already is ranked the lowest on the global human development index. The conditions are ripe for serious change, but in which direction will that change occur and is there anything we, in the west, could do about it without appearing imperialist?
Let’s take a quiz to help us focus.
What to do?
A) Wring our hands and do nothing;
B) Make a lot of proclamations and threats about sanctions and reductions in financial exchanges that take some time to begin having an impact, while in the short term do nothing;
C) Bomb and shoot the heck out of people and infrastructure, then fly away and leave the locals to their own devices;
D) Bomb and shoot the heck out of people and infrastructure, then get stuck in their country for an unforeseen number of decades to come;
E) Come up with a strategic plan that actually speaks directly to the needs of the people on the street far better than any militant, anti-democratic force ever could do, so they see we are prepared to engage them constructively, and on their terms, as soon as “the day after” arrives.
You should know, by the way, that A-D are the options recently offered and discussed in international power circles while innocent people in the Middle East are massacred, friendly governments are threatened, and adversarial eyes watch from the shadows with their own plans for the region’s future. Meanwhile, the only viable answer, E, remains ignored.
Below are recommendations based upon best practices in socioeconomic development to assist President Obama maneuver the United States, and subsequently the rest of the west, into the new and improved MENA regional ally:
1. Speak directly to the people on the ground, explaining that we offer them the hand of friendship and cooperation, rather than waste any more time making proclamations about their leaders;
2. Make it very clear that the intentions of the United States and western nations, from now on, are to promote self-sufficiency in the people of the MENA region, and that, to that extent, we are at their service through the following methods (Points 3-10):
3. Offer to widen access to the vast resources in socioeconomic development that are found throughout the United States and other western nations to the people of the Middle East — our capital, technology, and best practices in human development (healthcare, education, public safety, etc.) — through training programs and financial exchanges to assist them rebuild their economies under democratic governance;
4. Offer to make all non-oil exports to the USA and Europe from MENA countries duty free to help them diversity their economies;
5. Send in members of MENA Diaspora communities now living in the west who will offer assistance organizing governmental changes along the following lines:
- That MENA leaders empower their parliaments with more authority to enact the will of the people in their districts;
- Create neighborhood advisory councils that function independently of government, made up of civilians (e.g. tribal elders, academics, etc.) who discuss methods to improve services and attract business to their areas, and who provide their insights directly to local mayors and governors;
- The elected leaders of the neighborhood councils, the mayors, and the governors from all over the country should meet annually to elect, from among their ranks, a “kitchen cabinet” of advisors that, in turn, meets directly with the executive branch of government; MENA leaders and their official cabinets should meet with these kitchen cabinets quarterly for official consultations;
- Promote laws that maintain equitable treatment for all people irrespective of their ethnic, tribal, or religious affiliation;
- Facilitate modern community policing methods so that the police no longer act as a militia, and the people develop a friendly, trust-based relationship with local law enforcement;
- Thus, by providing more power to parliament, improving citizen participation in local government through neighborhood councils, creating kitchen cabinets made up of local representatives that meet directly with the executive branch of government on a routine basis, ensuring equitable treatment before the law, and promoting good ties between the locals and cops, MENA governments will facilitate much greater direct participation in government by the people themselves;
6. Offer assistance through training programs to develop government agencies that engage socially disadvantaged groups through best practices in services and empowerment programs that focus on full integration into mainstream society, e.g., minorities, women, people with disabilities, etc. so that these services are not left up to aspects of the civilian sector run by militant organizations that may be hostile to democracy;
7. Create cross-cultural programs between the people of the MENA and people from western countries that focus on mutual sustainable community development programs because nothing overcomes competition better than does cooperation to accomplish a humanitarian goal;
8. Create youth entrepreneurship opportunities through international trade and infrastructure development to facilitate equitable exchanges between youth and young adults that result in mutual stakeholders in poverty-reducing programs;
9. Promote stronger ties between technological research centers at western universities and MENA universities with dual focuses on urban and agricultural development;
10. Maintain a strong military presence in the region to deter any semblance that the west has gone weak while we begin engaging the local population socioeconomically to build their independence in a healthy partnership with the west.
In addition, the people of the MENA region should:
1. Create a Middle East and North African Youth Regional Parliament, made up of elected representatives specifically to this grouping who are under the age of 40; that provides recommendations on democratic governance and regional policy, and present their findings bi-annually to a regional group of official parliamentary heads that includes all nations in the region irrespective of their diplomatic ties with each other;
2. Create the Middle East and North African Youth Regional Games, which would function as a mini-Olympics for youth throughout the region irrespective of politics. These games should have a Special Olympics component for people with developmental disabilities, and a Paralympics component for people with physical disabilities to promote humanitarian interaction between the countries.
Any nation that refuses to allow its youth or parliamentary heads to participate in these programs should be expelled from its political regional grouping at the United Nations via direct petition of the MENA Youth Parliament, which would effectively interrupt its ability to participate on the United Nations Security Council. It is also incumbent upon the Youth Parliament and Regional Games not to exclude or marginalize Israel or any one nation, but rather, to focus on improving the region collectively.
Altogether through these policies, the west and MENA countries, and the people from both areas, would promote a combined micro- and macro-approach to MENA development in partnership with each other without exploitation.
If these policies are enacted comprehensively, the end result will be improved living conditions for the diverse peoples of the Middle East and North Africa, increased regional peace and cooperation, enhanced relations between Middle Eastern and North African countries with each other and with the west, and a significant reduction in global militancy. These policies speak directly to the needs of the people without appearing to be a fair weather friend to regional allies by promoting workable democratic reforms; and implement methods that will keep Pandora’s Box of Militancy shut tightly — the best of all worlds.
Freedom and democracy are not just discussion topics. They have real meaning. People are dying in the chaos. Yet, unfortunately, time is not on our side. We must move beyond rhetoric and focus on results-driven policies… now.