The Middle East Transition Office is supervised by Ambassador William Taylor, US Special Coordinator of Middle East Transitions Office.
In order to manage U.S. policy toward countries attempting democratic transitions in the Middle East, the State Department has opened a new office to support and strengthen the development of democratic institutions in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. The office is meant to be permanent, and would expand its operations to cover countries like Syria and Yemen - if and when those countries attempt a democratic transition. The office operates on a preliminary budget of US $135 million. (video interview)
Established: September 2011
William Taylor, senior vice president for conflict management at the U.S. Institute of Peace, will be leading the new office as Special Coordinator. Taylor was chosen for the job in part because he played a key role in a similar diplomatic effort following the collapse of the Soviet Union. The Special Coordinator will report to Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Jeffrey Feltman. The office will be first in charge to develop support strategies for the three countries that will be then implemented within the State Department, around the inter-agency process, and with the support of international financial institutions, non-governmental organizations, and stakeholders on the ground.
Development Priorities and Strategy In his speech to the State Department, made on May 19, President Barack Obama promised to work on establishing enterprise funds for Egypt and Tunisia, which are accounts meant to support start up programs and activities abroad, and said that U.S. support for democracy “will be based on ensuring financial stability; promoting reform; and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy - starting with Tunisia and Egypt."
The Special Coordinator said that the administration was still eager to pursue enterprise funds for these countries, but that legislation would be needed to get it done. The formula of Enterprise Funds (EF) was already operating for programs in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia in 1990 – 2007. The idea is to place U.S. Government funding under the management of qualified and independent boards of directors selected from the private sector. The goal is to encourage the private sector and free market development through loans and investments. In the previous programs EF invested in small and medium-sized enterprises, supported critical sectors, such as finance, telecom and construction, and provided technical assistance. The delegation of public funds to qualified private citizens (public-private partnership) effectively supported private sector development through a combination of investment and development activities, a dual approach that has proven very successful.
• Support for greater political openness and the democratic transitions:
“…If the pursuit of regional security and Arab-Israeli peace remain core ingredients in our strategy, the past year has driven home another truth -- that stability is not a static phenomenon, and that support for democratic transitions and economic opportunity are also extraordinarily important ingredients in a successful American strategy. Two years ago, I spoke here at MEI about the “dangerous shortage of economic and political hope” confronting the region. I recall that with an ample dose of humility. It was hardly a novel thought, and anyone who had read the Arab Human Development Reports over the past decade could see the tinder that was accumulating, even if it was very hard to see what exactly would happen when a spark was lit.
The truth is that this is a moment of enormous promise for people and societies who for far too long have known far too little freedom, far too little opportunity, and far too little dignity. It is a moment of great possibility for American policy … a moment when homegrown, people-driven protests have repudiated al-Qaeda’s false narrative that change can only come through violence and extremism. But it is also a moment of considerable risk, because there is nothing automatic or preordained about the success of such transitions. As much as it is in our interest to support the emergence of more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive governments that will ultimately make stronger and more stable partners, the journey is likely to be very complicated, very uneven, and, at times, very unsettling. We must accept that democratic transitions are often messy and unpredictable.
We must accept democratic choices and engage with all emerging political forces committed to pluralism and non-violence. And we must reject the old dictators’ conceit, that we really have only two choices -- the autocrats you know or the Islamic extremists you fear.
Furthermore, we must accept that we are going to have differences with democratic governments -- sometimes significant differences. Governments that are accountable to their populations are going to behave differently than autocratic governments did. It won't always be easy to work with them. We also know from transitions in other regions that there is a danger of authoritarian retrenchment or violent instability, especially if economic stagnation persists and newly-elected leaders don’t produce practical improvements in people’s daily lives. For these reasons, we have a huge stake in the success of post-revolutionary transitions where citizens are seeking inclusive political systems where none existed before. Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya hold the potential to shepherd the Middle East into a new era, one defined by free, fair, and credible elections; vibrant civil societies; and accountable and effective institutions. Tunisia, which lit the spark of the new Arab Awakening, held the first truly democratic elections in its history last month. Whereas a turnout of 70% in the Arab world once signaled a rigged election, today it is a sign of Tunisians’ determination to chart their own future. We too, are invested.
This year, America has committed about $60 million, to offer expertise to political parties and poll watchers, strengthen civil society, and promote freedom of expression. The remarkably peaceful and orderly conduct of these elections and the embrace of multiparty democracy, just ten months after Ben Ali fled the country, has set the standard for the rest of the region. We will begin to see a breadth and diversity of political groupings as the people of the region are allowed to give voice to their views. And, as Secretary Clinton said last week in a speech at the National Democratic Institute, we will judge the parties of the region not on what they call themselves, but on what they do. We should be less concerned about which parties win or lose than about whether democracy wins or loses in the process. And democracy means more than elections -- it means the protection of fundamental freedoms and equal rights for all, including women and minorities.
In Egypt, we must not underestimate the importance and consequence of the transition underway there. Long the cultural and political leader of the Arab world, Egypt can offer another powerful signal when it begins its own elections later this month. But successful parliamentary elections, for all the effort they require, are only a first step. It is important, in Egypt’s own self-interest, to see competitive presidential elections follow soon after; steps to consolidate an elected civilian-led government; and the continued emergence of a strong and independent Egyptian civil society to safeguard the principles of democracy. Libya, too, has won its liberty. This victory over tyranny is a testament not only to the bravery and determination of the Libyan people, but also to the undeniable potential of international partnership and American leadership. But much work remains.
After contending with Qadhafi himself, Libya must now contend with Qadhafi’s legacy of eviscerating Libyan institutions and civil society. The TNC has made good progress in its brief existence, against overwhelming odds. We look forward to welcoming a new interim government and to close and continued cooperation as they consolidate authority, secure dangerous weapons, and focus attention on the difficult task of building a peaceful, prosperous and democratic future for Libya...” excerpt from MEI Annual Banquet Washington, DC. November 16, 2011
• Support for the economic openness and opportunities which are critical to the success of those transitions
“…A second element of our strategy that I want to highlight this evening -- partnering to create broader economic opportunity -- flows out of our conviction that political transitions can’t succeed without confidence in a better economic future. Revitalized, open, and regionally-integrated economies are key to ensuring the success of democratic transitions. In the short term, we need to be clear-eyed: the unrest and uncertainty that has accompanied the new Arab Awakening has strained already difficult economic circumstances.
To support the democratic transitions underway in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya we’ve created a new office, the Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions, to organize all the tools at our disposal to help them succeed. And we’re working with Congress to ensure that, even in difficult times at home, we get the resources we need to seize the strategic opportunity the new Arab Awakening represents. The Enterprise Funds we are seeking to establish in Egypt and Tunisia and the ongoing work of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation will help people in the region access capital to start and grow their own businesses, providing hope for a better economic future. In the end, this is about translating the promise of political change into real, palpable hope for a better economic future, and about giving new leaders the tailwind they need to navigate bumpy transitions amid high expectations. Conventional assistance, no matter how generous, will not be enough. Nor will a short-term approach. We must help these countries empower individuals to make their own economic as well as political choices, and grow a real middle class.
The revolutions in countries like Egypt and Tunisia were driven by a firm rejection of a past where prosperity was confined to a narrow segment of society. As we saw in Egypt, economic liberalization that fails to achieve inclusive growth is a false path to prosperity. That is why we are working with Congress to achieve $1 billion in debt swaps so that the Egyptian government can use those resources for the benefit of the Egyptian people, especially the younger generation. This kind of genuine economic reform process will require that leaders have visions compelling enough to drive what will be tough and sometimes unpopular choices. That is why we and our European partners must think, and act, more ambitiously to open up trade and investment across the region. Through the G8’s Deauville Partnership, we are mobilizing the world’s leading economies and international lending institutions to support the transitions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya, as well as the major reforms underway in Jordan and Morocco. As G8 President next year, we will keep high-level attention on these transitions, and the imperative of regional economic integration across the Middle East and North Africa….”