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"An Army of Democracy" - Gedmin Moderates Debate with Dissidents

Ali Afshari, Jeffrey Gedmin, and Saad Eddin Ibrahim on FPI panel.

Ali Afshari, Jeffrey Gedmin, and Saad Eddin Ibrahim on FPI panel.

(WASHINGTON, DC ) In a nationally televised discussion moderated by RFE/RL President Jeffrey Gedmin, two prominent dissidents - one from Iran, the other from Egypt - called for bold U.S. support for democracy and human rights. [watch on C-SPAN; read the transcript]

"The regime in Tehran is most flexible when it feels strong pressure against it," said Ali Afshari, an Iranian activist who spent three years in prison for promoting democracy on college campuses. "If the Iranian people find that the U.S. does not care about democracy in Iran, they might support a more hostile, anti-American approach."

Egypt's leading human rights activist, Saad Eddin Ibrahim, said, "Western leaders must condition relations with Mubarak and other autocrats with the demand that they respect the most minimum standards of human rights and democracy."

Their discussion last night was part of a two-day conference organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI) called Advancing and Defending Democracy.

Afshari believes the Iranian elections changed things in a "revolutionary way."

"People are demanding more radical change, especially the youth," he said. "Before the elections, young people had little interest in politics. Now, they are an army of democracy."

In Egypt, too, Ibrahim said there is a large constituency of people who support democratic development.

"Western policymakers have a pathological fear that democratic development in Egypt will give rise to Islamic extremists, such as what happened with Hamas in Gaza," he said.

"But this is wrong. In the 2005 elections, only 23% of the population turned out to vote because there were only two choices: the autocratic, corrupt Mubarak government and the Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood. Where are the other 77% of registered voters? These are the middle class people that democrats like myself are counting on." [watch on C-SPAN; read the transcript]