About the Author: Deputy Assistant Secretary Tamara Cofman Wittes leads efforts to promote the political, economic, and social empowerment of citizens in the Middle East and North Africa in the Bureau of Near East Affairs.
The Obama Administration believes that supporting democratic reform in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is important to America's interests and to our long-term relationship with the region. President Obama and Secretary Clinton see no conflict between realism and idealism when it comes to political freedom, because neither America's interests nor the world's are served by the denial of human aspirations.
Last week, I had the opportunity to speak at a Freedom House/Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) event assessing the Obama Administration's efforts to extend human freedom in the MENA region. I talked about our role in helping empower the region's citizens to advocate, organize, and lead the change they want to see in their own societies. I invite you to learn more about these efforts by visiting the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) website.
I explained that, as we develop relationships in the MENA region, we keep in mind the core principles of the vision President Obama put forward in Cairo a year ago: (1) mutual respect, mutual interest, and mutual responsibility; (2) a shared commitment to universal values; and (3) a commitment to broader engagement with citizens and governments alike.
In the discussion that followed, I had a great exchange with panelists and the audience about the administration's strategy to advance the goals President Obama laid out in Cairo last year, including the goals of democratic growth, women's empowerment, and equality for all. Our engagement with Egypt on democracy and support for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in the country was a major topic. I noted that, despite a reduction in overall assistance levels from FY2008 to FY2009, the administration had maintained support levels for registered Egyptian NGOs and actually increased assistance for unregistered Egyptian NGOs. We also talked about the U.S. Government's new assistance package to help Yemen develop effective, representative, and accountable government.
I also pointed out that President Obama's new National Security Strategy describes the expansion of democracy abroad as "fundamental" to our strategy for security. As the President recently said at West Point, "When an individual is being silenced, we aim to be her voice. Where ideas are suppressed, we provide space for open debate. Where democratic institutions take hold, we add a wind at their back...That is who we are. That is what we do."
It's an honor to be a part of fulfilling the President's vision and to work with regional activists, to help them shape social and political environments that support active citizens and protect their universal rights. You can find the text of my full remarks here. I encourage you to share your thoughts and reactions to my speech and our work to advance human freedom and human potential in the Middle East and North Africa.