Cross-posted from the Jordan Times:

Making Friends out of Enemies – The Arab Spring and the International Community
By Ruby Amatulla and Matthew Cappiello
August 23, 2011

The Arab Spring has shocked and awed skeptics from around the world with its beautiful statements of resistance against oppression. But in order for these statements to be translated into region-wide changes that are politically built to last, we need involvement from nonpartisan members of the global community.

Although justifiable suspicions exist, foreign assistance still remains important in these transitional stages. Foreign assistance has helped to save nations from disasters, tragedies, and terrible social injustice. Aside from historical examples such as the international pressure exerted on countries such as Bosnia and South Africa, millions to billions of dollars travels to developing countries all over the world every single year. Members of the global community can assist towards development of progressive societies and fast-growing economies, such as was the case during America’s involvement in the reconstruction of post-World War II Germany and Japan.

It is obvious that many aid allocations throughout recent global history have been counterproductive and manipulative. But, no nation is monolithic. It is one thing to remain vigilant against foreign abuses, but it is quite another thing to categorically and stubbornly reject any support.

This disservice is especially apparent in recent characterizations of Western aid as a manipulative foreign scheme. While certainly imperfect, the West has a lot of experiences with their own attempts towards self-rule. Take America, for example. One American identity might champion war, economic injustice, and global hegemony. However, the other American neighbor speaks the language of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X, using the fires of liberty and justice to ignite social movements at the doorstep of ordinary citizens. Thus, it is imperative that Arab Spring activists engage with nonpartisan Western experts in order to mutually share ideas – even if individuals on either side are smeared as sellouts or foreign agents.

Mutual cooperation can facilitate activists in identifying which kinds of aid are productive and which are counterproductive, rather than shortsightedly rejecting all assistance from outside powers as a manipulative scheme. A team of both leaders and activists should come up with a creative process to handle foreign aid in a manner more effective than previous efforts, like the failures of Egyptian foreign assistance documented in previous USAID audits.

We must not solely categorize Western nations as selfish or bigoted institutions. Arab Spring uprisings have earned unprecedented respect from the Western public, even though they came from some of the most conservative parts of the Muslim world.
Western citizens are increasingly aware that their governmental policies are responsible for many of the problems faced around the world. They are increasingly interested in reforming counterproductive governmental policies, and they are more open towards engaging with people on all sides. Bridge-building common denominators, such as Western Muslims and their respective ethnic communities, can help to form game-changing lobbying coalitions for the interests of Arab Spring activists. It is important to remember that governments in Western countries still respond relatively well to popular will when they are pushed hard enough.

In addition, it is an enormous disservice to one’s cause if one brands a political system as a Western concoction, especially when many supposedly ‘Western’ political systems have helped to internally stabilize their societies through rule of law, checks and balances, meritocratic ideals, and other political principles. It is possible for these systems to comply with the core values of Islam: equality before God and equality before society, freedom of choice for all humans, accountability before God, and inherent dignity within a human being due to his or her ‘true nature’ (‘fitratulAllah,’ Quran 30:30) as a vicegerent of God on earth.

Ultimately, Western nations and Arab Spring activists will both have to give a little if they want to get a lot. If the Arab Spring activists categorically reject Western assistance, they will only push Western policymakers towards preference for the elites and old guards. If the West shows hesitation and mixed signals towards revolutionary activists, they will only ensure that more and more extremist groups make strange ‘bed fellows’ with existing elites and militaries in order to subvert progressive forces.

We must ensure that commonalities between cultures are emphasized over current differences or past wounds. People all over the world value freedom and human dignity. Many are sympathetic towards the assistance of deprived peoples. Geographic and political boundaries are becoming less and less of a barrier to the needs of all humanity. In this respect, the world is becoming more democratic and Islamic in nature. We must utilize this global spirit in order to foster long-term reforms in post-Arab Spring nations.