How Arab Autocrats Can Counter Biden’s Democracy Agenda

Whether it is politically motivated or genuinely driven, President Joe Biden’s attempt to promote the spread of democracy in the Middle East should not be underrated by Arab autocrats. Denying the widespread repression in the Arab World while accusing western nations of applying equally cruel behavior will exacerbate the strained relations further. Arab leaders simply have to modernize their despotic policies to satisfy the United States’ temporary desire for democracy.

Arab rulers need to better comprehend the United States’ foreign policy dynamics. In essence, U.S. foreign policy is shortsighted due to the regular swaps between Democratic and Republican Administrations, is predominantly articulated by interest groups, and the involvement of diverse political players naturally results in political compromises that are often embellished with false moral principles.

In light of these political dynamics, Arab autocrats need to articulate a policy that differentiates between U.S. politicians’ rhetoric that is aimed at inspiring American voters and actual U.S. policies! They need to match the U.S.’s hypocrisy, acknowledging the need for advancing democracy and respecting human rights when American rhetoric arises, making illusory democratic moves that will satisfy the U.S. until the current wave of democratic demands passes.

American bureaucracy is the most significant factor in this process; engaging with bureaucrats will fulfill their mandate, giving the U.S. Administration a false sense of achievement, which is all that is needed in this ruling era. For example, releasing a few political prisoners, changing civil society laws and opening a few media outlets for the “lenient” Arab opposition are all initiatives that are often perceived constructively by the U.S. but that won’t really impact the well-rooted autocracy in Arab nations – besides, these measures can be reversed eventually!

Moreover, the leverage Arab autocrats have over the United States is outdated and needs to be reinvented! The claim that democracy will bring political Islamists to power and that the latter will trigger a war with Israel was discredited when Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood accepted full normalization with Israel during its 365-day rule. Establishing closer ties with Russia would only burden the Arab autocrats who would find themselves being led by a reckless nation that is currently under-the–water. Teaming up with Turkey, a semi-tyrant nation, would only create a new ‘axis of evil’ that would further pressure the region’s autocrats. Additionally, Arabs can’t always depend on Israel to defend their repressive policies.

Arab dictators’ present leverage in countering the United States lies in expanding the economic relationship with China; advancing Arab relations with Iran and gently working on reducing overall American domination in the Arab World. These efforts will enable Arab autocrats to create new cards, which they could eventually use in dealings with the American Administration.

Advancing the role of the Chinese companies in the Arab World, along with the possibility of weighing Chinese technology against American technology, will aggravate American companies operating in the region and work on reducing American economic domination. Moreover, since Americans are over-obsessed with Iran, any attempt at Arab-Iranian normalization such as enabling Iranian citizens to visit Islamic sights in the Arab World will be a cause for serious concern in the United States.

A number of American presidents have tried to promote democracy in the Middle East. They all failed abjectly due to the U.S.’s reluctance to value democracy over its interests in the region. This has led to a substantial decline of America’s popularity in the Arab world; all parties, including the autocrats themselves, view the U.S. as an untrustworthy partner. Thus, the Summit of Democracy that President Biden initiated won’t be more significant than the speech Obama delivered to the Islamic world in Cairo, in 2009. Meanwhile repression in the Arab world has expanded notably in the last decade. 

The amount of scholarly work that American pundits have been producing on the Arab World for decades, proves that the U.S. is fully aware of the magnitude of Arab despotism while the intensive American engagement in the Middle East, with its pros and cons, shows that the U.S. has a vested interest in the region. We may conclude that consecutive American Administrations have always been perfectly in tune with Arab autocrats, whose agenda is slightly interrupted by the Democrats’ hypocrisy, but gets back on track when the Republicans’ immoral pragmatism is in command. 

Autocracy in the Arab world is, in fact, exceedingly cruel behavior that is not in line with either Islam, the religion of the Arab majority, or the evolution of the current era wherein people are eager for freedom and dignity. However, the manipulation of autocrats to serve personal political interests is equally shameful. If the U.S. is truly interested in promoting democracy, plenty of constructive ideas could be advanced – and I would be happy to offer my contribution.  

Mohammed Nosseir
Mohammed Nosseir
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian liberal politician, living in Cairo and advocating for political participation, liberal values and economic freedom. He tweets @MohammedNosseir