George of Crawford on the Horns of Hattin
The Greater Middle East Initiative at an Impasse.
The United States initiative for democratization in the Arab-Muslim world which will be the topic at the 2nd Forum for the Future today and tomorrow in Bahrain remains stalled, more than one year after its launch by George W. Bush.
The Manama Forum will gather representatives from 20 or so countries in the region and the members of the G8 (Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States). US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will be in attendance. The first edition of the forum held in December 2004 in Rabat, Morocco, was marked by strong reservations on the part of representatives of Arab countries who had insisted on the necessity of linking democratization to the settelement of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Several meetings have been held to date, but there have been no results, observes Munzer Suleiman, an Arab expert based in the United States. Suleiman believes that Washington is attempting to impose a system of political, economic and cultural vassalage on the countries in the region. The US initiative cannot succeed as long as the United States is not engaged in settling the problems of the region.
The goal of Mr. Bush’s project is to integrate Israel into Arab society, which will always reject the Jewish state, accuses Qatari academic Mohammed Mesfer, who believes that the US occupation of Iraq has become a crucible of troubles, indicative of the failure of the American model of democracy.
When Mr. Bush unveiled the Greater Middle East Initiative at the beginning of 2004 before its acceptance at the G8 Summit in June last year, the United States presented the war on Iraq and the overthow of the regime of Saddam Hussein as the first phase in the reforging of the Middle East.
The region needs internal formulas for an experiment in democracy, apart from a military--or other--mandate, warns Suleiman, who adds that the problem lies in the nature of the regional policy pursued by by the United States, whose priorities are oil, the protection of Israel, and the maintenance of the current regimes.
The American authorities are aware of the limits of their initiative in the Arab-Muslim world, where the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy, Karen Hughes, experienced for herself the widespread anti-American feeling during her September tour through Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Quoting her boss, Condoleezza Rice, admited that Changes often take place at their own pace and sometime occur slowly.
Former Kuwaiti minister Ali al-Baghli is not among the skeptics. The intervention of the United States to impose reform has already yielded results, some quite progressive... he says, citing the first ever elections in Saudi Arabia, the first contested presidential race in Egypt, the pullout of Syrian forces from Lebanon and the recent constitutional referendum in Iraq. The Iraq experience will be a success, but it will take time, from 10 to 15 years. But we cannot turn around, al-Baghli continued.
Mohammed Mesfer is not convinced. A volcano is simmering under the sands of the region, he warned.
L'Orient Le-Jour, 11 November 2005.