To achieve this will require policies that open up economies, reduce bureaucratic controls, speed economic growth, improve educational systems and encourage the types of gradual political change now seen in small countries like Bahrain, Oman, Jordan, Kuwait and Morocco. Japan and Korea demonstrated that democracy could be combined with indigenous values in Asia. The Arab world, too, can develop intellectuals, social groups and eventually countries with liberal economies and societies that are consistent with local cultures. But this will take time and patience -- and it will need to be accompanied by US policy changes on Iraq, Palestine-Israel and the regional economy.
Equally important will be whether Western countries cooperate to create a long-term strategy of cultural and educational exchanges that can help develop a richer and more open civil society in Middle Eastern countries. The most effective advocates for democratic change are not American or European officials, but citizens of the region who understand Western virtues as well as flaws and can adapt them to indigenous conditions to press for social change.
Corporations, foundations, universities and non-profit organizations can promote much of this work. Companies and foundations can offer technology to help modernize Arab educational systems and take them beyond rote learning. Western universities can host more students and faculty. Other organizations can support specific institutions in Arab countries, or programs that enhance the professionalism of journalists.
But governments also have an important role to play. By supporting the teaching of foreign languages and financing student exchanges, they can help people in the region accomplish their own goals as spelled out in the Arab Human Development Report.
There are many strands to an effective long-term strategy to promote conditions for stability and broader political participation in the Arab world. This is America's declared goal. But getting there requires American policies that are consistent with the comprehensive approach that a democratic transformation would require.
Joseph Nye, a former assistant US defense secretary, is a Harvard University politics professor.
Copyright: Project Syndicate