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How the U.S. Can Repair Relations With the Muslim World and Support Arab Youth

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The Arab Spring has offered the U.S. administration a new opportunity to revise its policy in the Middle East. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a conference with Tunisian youth on February 25 to restate America's determination to build new relations with the Middle East.

As anti-government protestors in Syria calling for the fall of Bashar al-Assad’s regime chant that Assad is a “traitor and American agent," and as thousands of Tunisians applaud Tariq Ramadan for preaching that “It’s dangerous to think that France or the USA deeply care about their democratic aspirations,” it is clear that tension between Arabs (and other countries with major Muslim communities) and the U.S. still exist.

It is high time now that America and the Arab and Muslim world start over again. The Muslim world is a jigsaw of many pieces that differ culturally and politically; America needs to acknowledge these differences and address them individually, according to each country’s proper characteristics and cultural environment.

There is also a linguistic gap between the Middle East and North America that often makes it even more difficult to build dialogue between the two cultures.

With the ascension of the Salafi movement in the Middle East calling for ideological conflict with the West – and especially North America – the U.S. needs to counter these movements and reassure the Arab people that it is looking out for their best interests. 

Still, Arabs now suffer from economic marginalization more than a crisis of faith and conflict with the West, with 30% of youth in the Middle currently unemployed. The U.S. has an opportunity to communicate with the Arab people and reach out to them, by connecting with civil societies in these countries, providing English-language training, forming economical partnerships, and developing educational exchange programs with the Arab world. Because it is youth that will make change in region, the U.S. should prioritize connecting with the youth that toppled long-lasting regimes.

Luckily, the U.S. administration seems to acknowledge the significant changes in the Middle East region and is ready to tackle the real issues in the Middle East with new perspectives.

“We’re going to build the momentum by organizing a global youth jobs’ alliance to bring in more partners and reach more people, and one area we will emphasize is expanding English-language training,” said Clinton. By reaching out to youth and empowering them, the U.S. can build new relationships with the Middle East that are based on collaboration and not guardianship. Arab youth will benefit greatly from the U.S. assistantship, trainings, and bilateral openness on both sides’ culture.

The U.S. also needs to reform its relationships with the governments in Arab countries. Now that Arabs have freely elected their own representatives, America's new policy in the Middle East should be to not interfere too much with the governments of these countries. Recent threats to cut Egypt’s aid to suppress the legal charges against NGO workers in Egypt only angered Egyptians, who said the U.S. is meddling into Egyptian judiciary affairs. The U.S. should give a clear message to the Arab people that it is now willing to assist them and work with them through their democratic transition. This message should highlight America's readiness to assist new elected governments in these countries to implement more democratic reforms in their nations and build a strong democratic government. The goal should be not to dictate how they should proceed, but for every citizen to grasp the U.S. motto to protect freedom and liberty anywhere in the world.

"After a revolution, history shows it can go one of two ways. It can move in the direction you are now headed, building a strong, democratic country, or it can derail. … You must be the guardians of your democracy,” Clinton said. It is now up to the Tunisian youth to work hard and make the change. 

Outside of politics and the Arab-Palestinian conflict, the United States and the Middle East share strong economic ties that make the two worlds so dependent on each other. With the emergence of new markets and new rising economies such as India and Brazil, the Middle East financial markets have great potential to be a good investment for classic powerful economes such as the American economy. The Middle East is an important labor market with 95 million youth between 15 and 19. That means there are 95 million youth full of potential and brilliant ideas to develop their own communities and bring the change to their nations.

Relations now between the Middle East and the USA should be based mainly on these economical possibilities to benefit both parties. Clinton asserted that the U.S. is ready to help with financial and technical support to Tunisian and other Arab countries to open their economies for even more opportunities in Asia, Latin America and the rest of the world.

With the wind of changes sweeping the Middle East region, the U.S. now has to change its foreign policy to deal with democratic aspiration of the Arab world and its still-shaping regimes. New relationships should be based on cultural openness, fair treatment, and mutual interests.

Photo Credit: ConspiracyofHappiness

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