Middle East democracy watch

I suppose I’ll be convinced that President Bush is serious about his new commitment to democracy in the Middle East when Aida Seif El Dawla is convinced. According to Fred Hiatt in The Washington Post:

Dr. Seif El Dawla, a psychiatrist who was in this country to receive an award from Human Rights Watch, founded the Egyptian Association Against Torture and helps run a clinic for female victims of violence, whether state-sponsored or domestic. She has battled religious intolerance as well as government repression, thus occupying the narrow space that administration officials now say must be expanded if democracy in the region is to take root.

But over the past few months, as President Mubarak’s regime has refused to register her organization, she says she has sensed no support from the U.S. Embassy.

Similarly in Morocco, Bush and his administration have chosen to focus on the steps of King Mohammed VI toward including women in politics. Meanwhile the government there “seems to have made the decision to restrict liberty in the name of security, perhaps in imitation of the United States after the Sept. 11 attacks,” as newspaper publisher Aboubakr Jamai has written.

And Hiatt points to a central dilemma in Bush’s plan for democracy-building:

The Sept. 11 attacks brought Bush and many others to an understanding that U.S. security ultimately is harmed by repressive Arab regimes that maintain power in part by striking bargains with intolerant Islamist movements. But the attacks, by illuminating U.S. vulnerability, also pushed the administration to cooperate more closely than ever with the police forces, skilled in torture, of the regimes that Bush now decries.

Many Arab advocates of human rights and political freedom say that, from among these contradictory signals, their rulers so far have chosen to receive only the green light for repression.

The Bush administration, in other words, can’t have it both ways. It can’t approve– tacitly or otherwise– the extra-judicial mistreatment of terrorist suspects while piously urging the regimes which practice it to respect individual rights and the rule of law.

It appears there’s still some distance to go on Bush’s road to a democratic Damascus.