Supporting Democratic Reform in the Middle East and North Africa

June 2, 2010
Broadcast of President Obama's Cairo Speech Reflected in Man's Sunglasses in Riyadh

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.



david w.
June 2, 2010

David W. in Kenya writes:

I fully support President Obama's efforts in ensuring that the values of freedom and human rights are upheld by these governments. It is my honest opinion that the cooperation of this region in such issues is vital especially since they play a major role in matters of global security.

June 3, 2010

O writes:

r u going to trade Iranian UN sanction with GAZA perhaps?

Virginia, USA
June 3, 2010

Flavius in Virginia writes:

This post is not worthy of comment.

United States
June 3, 2010

O.C. in USA writes:

Remember the scene in the Graduate when the father pulls Dustin Hoffman to the side and says, "I have one word, PLASTICS." Well in response to the Middle East and Africa, I have one word, EDUCATION. We should be an army of American ants building schools, setting up computer based instruction, teaching best practices of early education. We have the tools, knowledge and resources. Education is the best prevention to extremism. We should be acting quickly and decisively. There are so many unemployed, knowledgeable Americans twiddling their thumbs in unemployment, we should be working, building strong communities to counteract the extremist threat.

June 4, 2010

A. writes:

An Irish ship is approaching Israel coast trying to force Gaza israeli block: how shall we behave after the irish ship will be sinked? European news papers are reporting real weird Israeli declaration about mercy in the region...

June 4, 2010

S. writes:

I would call attention in the resolution that it actually condemned the attack by Israeli forces before Israel or anyone else has had the opportunity to fairly evaluate the facts. It has been condemned the act of violence - sameway it is condemned Violence in any other country on this planet like in china In korea etc...EU and US must direct and join their effort in fighting extremism both ways

June 4, 2010

C. writes:

America as per the follwing text MUST work for common Goals along with international community In PREVENTING CONFLICT
Conflict Assessment: A prerequisite to effective USG efforts to prevent violent conflict and civil strife or support post-conflict stabilization and reconstruction is a shared understanding of the particular conflict dynamics at work in the country or region of concern. An interagency Working Group, chaired by CP and USAID’s Office of Conflict Management and Mitigation, developed the ICAF Principles document for approval by the Stabilization and Reconstruction Policy Coordinating Committee. The ICAF is designed to guide a shared interagency analysis of conflict dynamics and identify potential entry points for USG efforts as a bridge to planning. The Working Group also drafted two guidance documents for use in Assembling an Interagency Team for performing an ICAF and a Methodologies document describing how to apply the framework

Maged M.
June 4, 2010

Maged M. in Egypt writes:

I work in the Assembly of Sadat's development and social welfare. Non-governmental organization and get support from MEPI to fund social projects. That have reached the policy in Egypt is the farce sense of the word. We are seeing a new episode each day of the serial sham democracy. We need to target the citizens of each individual citizen.

The recent elections in Egypt was on 01/06/2010. It was a farce that the attendance of citizens to vote on that day. Three citizens of every 1000 citizens. I was one of the observers of those elections, the government has announced that the turnout rate the tribunals between 25% to 40%

Calvin D.
District Of Columbia, USA
June 16, 2010

Calvin D. in Washington, D.C. writes:

New North Africa Blog!

Foreign Policy Blogs, the largest network of global affairs blogs, created by the Foreign Policy Association, has decided to increase its focus on North Africa by adding a new blog to its existing blogs which cover 50+ topics and regions. The new “North Africa” blog will highlight developments and news in the region and serve as a space for foreign policy professionals, students, think tanks and others to discuss challenges, progresses and US policy and involvement in Mauritania, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya.

Check out the new North Africa Blog at


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