Faced with economic crises at home and globally, threats of nuclear proliferation, unresolved conflicts in the "Greater Middle East," grinding poverty, conflicts and spread of deadly, but curable diseases in Africa, President Obama has a formidable agenda to deal with. There is no more appropriate place to start his fight against these daunting issues than in the Middle East, where the root causes of destabilizing religious extremism, intolerance, use of religion as a deadly tool to achieve political objectives, rise and exportation of deadly ideology, Wahhabism, are posing ominous threats to the world's economies, peace and preservation of democratic and humane values.
A recent article published by President Obama's hometown newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, wondered "Which Muslim capital will Barack Obama choose?" The article was predicated on speculative reports as to what Muslim country Mr. Obama might visit to start a healing dialogue with Muslims. Arab and Muslim regimes, their controlled populations and severely censored media have been celebrating Mr. Obama's election and expect him to apologize for, or at least acknowledge publicly, that America has wronged them, especially in recent years. Arab and Muslim regimes expect President Obama to embrace them, solve the Arab-Israeli conflict as proposed by Saudi Arabia in 2002, and retreat from advocating transparent democratic reforms, power-sharing and respect for basic human rights in Arab and Muslim tyrannically-ruled societies.
President Obama will be ill advised - and America and the international community will continue to pay a very high price - if he heeds advice from those who might encourage him to be an apologetic and appeasing president. As the leader of the free world and representative of the most democratic and powerful nation on this planet, Mr. Obama should start his first speech to Arabs and Muslims, rulers and ruled, moderates and extremists, by making it unequivocally clear that the international economies, peace and preservation of democratic values must be on the top list of every Muslim regime's agenda.
He should make it clear that the root causes of religious extremism and its byproduct, terrorism, must be ended by those who created them in the first place. The President must make it clear to Arab and Muslim autocratic regimes that all governments' owned and financed religious schools and mosques that advocate intolerance of non-Muslims, ethnic and religious minorities must be either transformed from the ground up, be closed without any delays or face dire consequences. The leaders of non-compliant countries must be banned from participating in international organizations and forums, banned from traveling and have their assets frozen.
President Obama must establish sound foundations with the Arab and Muslim peoples because they are yearning for emancipation from the yoke of tyranny, poverty and piercing disenfranchisement. He will be well-received and supported by most Muslims if he supports their empowerment and democratic aspirations.
President Obama has to make it unequivocally clear publicly and frequently, in plain language, that nuclear proliferation in the Middle East must never materialize in that region, which is mostly ruled by tyrannical and unstable regimes. The only negotiation around this subject should be limited to making sure that those who aspire to having nuclear weapons understand that if they don't dismantle their nuclear facilities and designs within six months, the international community will take them out by sheer force. Threats of diplomatic isolation and economic sanctions have not worked before and won't work in the future, especially in countries ruled by families and presidents for life.
To allow unstable and paranoid dictators to make and own nuclear arsenals would be suicidal for all of the Middle Eastern and the international community. Mr. Obama and his established senior advisors must understand that apologizing to Arabs and Muslims is interpreted as weakness and defeat rather than a demonstration that democratic nations are willing to admit their mistakes and learn from them. Democratically and freely elected governments are under scrutiny by a free press. Those who circumvent the rule of law and are not compliant with the wishes of the electorate are held accountable in a transparent manner, and pay dearly for their misjudgments, let alone crimes. This is done under the rule of law and in independent courts instead of the barbaric head chopping squares as practiced in most Arab and Muslim countries.
In order for Mr. Obama to avoid being trapped in the same suffocating spider webs in which his predecessors (with the exception of President Bush and Secretary Rice on a few occasions) were trapped, he has to make it unequivocally and irreversibly clear to the Arab and Muslim autocratic regimes and the handlers of their hate disseminating institutions that business as usual has stopped with his election. He was elected because he promised change and "yes we can." That means change across the board and not only at the domestic level.
He must understand, and he does, that prosperity, security and preservation of the most sacred American liberties at home depend greatly on what happens in the Muslim world. He must understand that the American people are still haunted by what happened on September 11, 2001 and are leery and reminded of possible Muslim terrorist attacks on their country and liberties at anytime. He should be made aware that the encroachment of the Shariah law and Islamic banking system will undermine the individual liberty, freedom of choices and incentives to compete, create and utilize one's God and natural given utilities and put them to good use to serve and preserve the American empowering values.
To make sure Muslims hear him and take him seriously, President Obama has to deliver his first stern policy message to the Muslim regimes and populations from Saudi Arabia, preferably Mecca. It's the birth place of Islam and home to its holy shrine in Mecca and Madina, to which an estimated 1.3 billion Muslims face and pray five times a day; where the deadly Wahhabi ideology was conceived, hatched, incubated, nurtured, and then exported as a deadly tool to terrorize the Saudi people, Muslims and non-Muslims.
Finally, self-serving and appeasing policies, speeches and support for tyrannical Muslim regimes will only lead to continued empowerment of extremist ideologues, alienation and weakening of pro-democratic Arab and Muslim reformers in and outside of the "Greater Middle East," and continued oppression of women, religious and ethnic minorities, decreasing the chances for world peace and economic stability. Mr. Obama will be wise to heed the advice of his democratic elder who is and has been selective of his human rights advocacy, former President Jimmy Carter, who recently wrote, "Our next president has an unprecedented opportunity to lead through example by inspiring and supporting those who would reach for freedom and by being tough and effective with those who would impede freedom's march. All Americans must give him full support."
Ali Alyami is the Executive Director of the Washington-based Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Saudi Arabia.