"Weapons of Mass Deception"


Arabs Reject U.S. Push for Reform

At Morocco Conference, Officials Say Support for Israel Hinders Progress

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 12, 2004; Page A16

RABAT, Morocco, Dec. 11 -- Senior Arab officials attending an international conference to promote democracy in the Middle East emphatically rejected on Saturday the Bush administration's assertion that greater democracy in the region would help end terrorism. They argued that the administration's strong support of Israel made it difficult to undertake political reform or to stop extremists driven by hatred of U.S. policies.

"Let us face it," said the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud Faisal. "We perceive no clashes of civilization or competing value systems. The real bone of contention is the longest conflict in modern history."

The unusually frank comments were made in a conference session that was supposed to have been closed to the news media. But delegates' words were inadvertently piped to reporters in a nearby media center.

President Bush has said that establishing greater democracy in the Middle East would be a central goal of his second term. But after Arab backlash to the idea, the conference -- officially known as the "Forum for the Future" -- was watered down to focus mostly on economic liberalization.

The tough comments from Arab leaders further illustrate how the initiative may be undermined by the Bush administration's other policies.

U.S. officials in the past have rejected a link between the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and political reform in the Middle East. Secretary of State Colin L. Powell made that point again as he flew to Rabat on Friday. "We can't keep pointing to the Middle East peace process as the reason we don't undertake reform efforts that are needed by these nations," he told reporters traveling with him.

But other Arab officials echoed Saud's remarks, or brought up the U.S. war in Iraq, which is also deeply unpopular in the region. The Egyptian foreign minister, Ahmed Abul Gheit, attributed insecurity in the region to the stagnation of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Libya's representative, deputy foreign minister Hassouna Shawish, said "continued bloodshed makes it difficult for us all. I'm talking about bloodshed in Iraq."

European officials attending the session also cited a link between reform and the Palestinian issue. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said progress toward peace "will lend all reform and modernization efforts in the Arab world unprecedented momentum."

At a news conference, Powell later acknowledged that progress in the Middle East peace process would help with political reform. "But we are not sitting here today saying no reform until that is resolved," he said.

Reflecting the tension over the conflict, Morocco did not invite Israel, a thriving democracy, to the event, held in a government facility near the royal palace. Officials from about 20 Arab and Islamic countries in the Middle East and North Africa attended, along with members of the Group of Eight industrialized nations and representatives of business and private advocacy groups. In his remarks, Saud said Arabs recognized that the United States has a "bias toward Israel" but "the Arab peoples cannot fathom why these guarantees are transformed into unrestricted backing of unrestrained Israeli policies contrary to international legality."

Arguing that the conflict was responsible for the "seeds of terrorism" in the region, he said "it remains to be seen whether for the first time we can be honest with each other and commit ourselves to settling the Arab-Israeli conflict."

At one point, Saud recited a long list of Western and Arab philosophers that he said had shaped common values of Western and Arab nations. "These principles are far more powerful in their sublime inspiration than any weapons of war in inflicting fear and intimidation," he said, alluding to the invasion of Iraq. "By returning to these values, you can win the hearts and minds of the Arab and Muslim peoples."

Before the Iraq invasion, Bush had said he hoped that the fall of Saddam Hussein would help usher in democracy across the Middle East, and he has repeatedly pressed this idea in the past year. This month in Canada, he framed the democracy initiative as one of three "great commitments" to enhancing U.S. security, along with promoting effective multilateral institutions and fighting global terrorism.

But the concept has, in practice, been mostly a discussion of economic issues, not political reform. The one-day meeting here included a fledging effort by Italy, Turkey and Yemen to discuss programs to strengthen democratic institutions, but much of the conference was centered on such issues as financing for small entrepreneurs and literacy. A planned $100 million fund for small and mid-size business fell short.

During the public session, Powell said countries could attempt economic reforms first, but ultimately success was linked to increasingly open societies. "Now is not the time to argue about the pace of democratic reform, or whether economic reform must precede political reform," he said. But he noted: "Countries with active political participation by all people tend to enjoy greater investment, economic growth and educational excellence. In short, political and economic freedom go hand in hand."

Gheit, the Egyptian foreign minister, said in an interview that he resisted the notion that "reform" was necessary in the Arab world. "I prefer the word 'modernity,' " he said, on grounds that reform means something is wrong and need to be fixed.

The conference has been controversial in Morocco. The day before it started, L'Economiste, a conservative business publication here, published a front-page editorial cartoon on the conference depicting a U.S. soldier pointing a machine gun at a Arab man on the ground. In a quote the cartoon attributes to Powell, the soldier sneers: "I hope we can come to an understanding of the need for reform and modernization of the broader Middle East and North Africa region

This site may contain copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.
Milton Frihetsson, 08:50


Post a Comment