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CHOCO
Dec 22nd, 2002, 12:21 AM
American call for democracy won’t go down well with Arabs

By Salama A Salama

The US-Middle East Partnership Initiative launched by Colin Powell, intended to foster democracy, open up markets, strengthen civil society and reform education systems in the Middle East, might have met with a more positive response had it not come at a time when Washington’s credibility within the region is at an all time low.

There is no doubt that the Arab world suffers a chronic crisis. Attempts at political reform have suffered major setbacks; they have stalled and stumbled, forced by conflict and foreign intervention to stagnate. Some Arab societies remain hostage to a tribal mentality with which ruling elites have repeatedly failed to deal.

Domestic conditions in Arab states, though, have never mattered to the US, or to the West in general. Western powers, after all, played not a small part in consolidating such conditions. Imperialism impeded the political development of the region.

The Cold War turned the Middle East into an arena for conflict between the two superpowers, and Washington has ruthlessly used Israel as a conduit for its own influence. The Middle East, as far as Washington is concerned, means little beyond Israeli security, oil fields and the need to safeguard the transfer of oil to industrial centres in the West.

With the end of the Cold War and the emergence of the US as the dominant power Washington has lost its ability to act even-handedly. Double standards have become the norm, and strikingly so in Washington’s dealings with the Arab—Israeli conflict.

It is amazing that the US should only recently have discovered the ugliness of its image in Arab eyes, and amazing that it should now decide that this is a result not of its blind support for Israel, its active involvement in Zionist schemes to crush the Palestinian people, but is exclusively a product of the absence of democracy, the frailty of civil structures, the lack of women’s participation in public life, and the spread of poverty and unemployment in the Arab world.

Colin Powell delayed the announcement of the Initiative because he knew it would have no credibility in the Arab world. Nor does he seem to question why the US, immigration to which has been a long-standing dream among generations of young Arabs, should become the target of terror attacks?

America cannot act to upgrade governance in the Arab world when it is simultaneously crushing underfoot the rights of the Palestinian people, bracing itself for war against Iraq and positioning its forces in the region regardless of the intolerable political pressures this places on Arab governments.

The US pushes ahead with its war rhetoric on the basis of unproven allegations about Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction while sweeping under the carpet the fact that it is Washington that helped propagate such weapons, and that the most fearsome arsenal in the region is in the hands of Israel.

Any attack against Iraq will only serve Israel’s interests, fuel violence and terrorism in the region, and help eliminate whatever modest margin for democracy currently exists.

When discrimination in the US against Arabs and Muslims has become the norm, no one can take the American initiative seriously. Eliott Abrams, the official managing this pro- democracy programme — the newly appointed director of the Middle East Section in the State Department — is a supporter of Israel, a hard- line hawk and a member of the neo-imperialist clique who dominate American politics today.

He now has control of a $29 million earmarked for the initiative, a figure that pales in comparison with the $10 billion granted Israel to seal its occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the $300 billion Washington will spend on its war against Iraq. — Al-Ahram Weekly

CHOCO
Dec 22nd, 2002, 02:56 AM
:)