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October 4, 2012

Muslim protests could have a silver lining

(Continued)

The U.S. can't easily solve the unemployment problem in the Arab world or close the yawning gap between the skills of educated Arabs and the skills actually needed by employers. Nor can it provide the social justice — of which economics is only a part — that Arabs are looking to their new governments to deliver. But the U.S. can help.

First, it can consistently stand up for the American principles that are admired globally: political and economic liberty. It can also infuse the Middle East with economic advice, technical assistance, private-sector help and educational partnering. These are the U.S.'s comparative advantages. To some extent, this is already under way. The new $60 million Egyptian Enterprise Fund, which will provide support for small- and medium-sized Egyptian businesses, is a good start. So was a trip by more than 100 U.S. businessmen last month arranged by the embassy in Cairo.

But such programs need to occur on a larger scale that holds some prospect of tipping the wobbly trajectory of today to a definitively positive slope. Giving American business significant incentives to invest in Egypt, providing Egyptian products easy access to the U.S. marketplace, and offering significant aid and expertise contingent on policy reforms should be pillars of a strategy seeking to boost long-term Egyptian prospects.

Doing far more to help these new democracies thrive isn't just in the interests of Arabs, who are deserving of a better future, but also of the U.S., which needs better partners in this part of the world.

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Meghan L. O'Sullivan, a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and former deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration, is a Bloomberg View columnist.

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