Patterson says road to democracy difficult in Middle East


WASHINGTON — Former U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson cautioned a Senate panel Thursday that stable democratic governments won’t come easy to the Middle East.

“The changes across the region carry the promise of a more democratic political order that will benefit the region and the United States in the long term, however, the region will remain volatile and often violent for some time to come,” she said.

Patterson, a native of Fort Smith, appeared Thursday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as it considers her nomination to be Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs.

Committee leaders, Democrats and Republicans, gave every indication they plan to support her confirmation to the State Department post, noting her experience as a U.S. diplomat in some of the most challenging foreign posts, including Pakistan, Egypt and Colombia.

“She was in the eye of the storm as the winds of the Arab Spring began to blow across the region and her expertise and experience served her well,” said Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., who chairs the committee.

“I don’t know if we have a more qualified person,” said Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker, the ranking Republican on the committee.

Although highly respected by the Senate committee, Patterson was a controversial figure in Egypt where she was seen as discouraging street protests against the newly elected government led by Mohamed Morsi.

In her new role, she will oversee U.S. foreign policy efforts in the region – including Egypt, Syria, Iran and Israel.

Patterson said her first priority would be to protect the United States and its allies. In particular, she said she would continue to support “vigorous efforts” to disable Syria’s chemical weapons, prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and support sustainable democratic transitions in the region.

Of the latter, Patterson again stressed the difficulty of developing democracies that may lack basic government institutions such as commercial laws.

“Transition is often plagued by false starts and reverses,” she said.