WASHINGTON – “The US government sees the transitions in the Arab world as the greatest opportunity for major changes in strategic relationships over the past century,” said Ambassador William B. Taylor, the newly-appointed Special Coordinator for Middle East Transitions at the US State Department during a November 4 event at the Atlantic Council.  

 “We are dedicated to helping emerging leaders in these countries–to find out what they need and to help them get to a place that is build on values of tolerance, the value of women, respect for minorities…..and democratic values like civilian control of the military, budget oversight, and the rule of law. Political change will be fragile if not accompanied by economic progress, so we will help on the economic side as well,” Taylor said. He is leading State Department coordination on policy toward and assistance for countries in the Middle East that are trying to make the shift from authoritarian regimes to democracy, with a specific focus on Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya. 

The Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East co-hosted the discussion with Freedom House to release that organization’s new report, Countries at the Crossroads 2011,which analyzes the performance of 35 countries—including six in the Middle East and North Africa—in the spheres of government accountability, civil liberties, rule of law, and anticorruption and transparency. The event also featured a panel discussion including Hariri Center Director Michele Dunne, Freedom House President David Kramer, USAID Democracy and Governance Director David Yang, al-Arabiya television Washington Bureau Chief Hisham Melhem, and Freedom House’s Vanessa Tucker. 

Michele Dunne, director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council, added, “The issues that Arab countries face in transitioning to democracy differ from place to place, for example the challenge of possible military dominance in Egypt, questioning of women’s rights in Tunisia, and the paucity of institutions in Libya. There are also common challenges that each will need to address in order to achieve success, such as how Islamists and secularists can cooperate to build strong and open political systems.” 

“The uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa have dispelled illusions about the durability of authoritarian systems in the Middle East,” said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House. “By ridding themselves of dictators and leaders for life, the Arab people have vividly demonstrated their devotion to the idea of freedom. But achieving democratic reforms in the region demands long-term commitment, determination, and resilience by societies in the region and supporters in the democratic world.”  

About Ambassador Taylor:   Prior to heading this new office at the US Department of State, Ambassador Taylor was Vice President for the US Institute of Peace’s (USIP) Center of Post-Conflict Peace and Stability Operations. Before joining USIP, he served as ambassador to Ukraine from 2006 to 2009. Prior to that assignment, Ambassador Taylor was the US government’s representative to the Mideast Quartet, which facilitated the Israeli disengagement from Gaza and parts of the West Bank.  He served in Baghdad as director of the Iraq Reconstruction Management Office from 2004 to 2005, and in Kabul as coordinator of international and US assistance to Afghanistan from 2002 to 2003. Ambassador Taylor was also a coordinator of US assistance to the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. 

About the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East: The Atlantic Council’s Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East seeks to produce original analysis of the forces transforming the region, as well as policy recommendations for the United States and Europe about how to promote closer and more productive relations with the region. The Hariri Center recognizes the substantial linkages between political and economic affairs, and will develop policy initiatives to promote successful democratic transitions and greater convergence among the Middle East, the United States, and Europe. The Center is dedicated to the memory of the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and his efforts to rise above sectarianism and to promote innovative policies to support economic and political liberalization, sustainable conflict resolution, and greater regional and international integration. 

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The Atlantic Council of the United States promotes constructive U.S. leadership and engagement in international affairs based on the central role of the Atlantic community in meeting the international challenges of the 21st century. For more information, visit us online at .

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