US initiative for reforming the Middle East has caused heated debates.
Conference devoted to projects of reforms in the Middle East will take place in Alexandria, Egypt. Politicians and scholars from Arabic countries will discuss future of the Middle East. The new initiative of the US administration called "Greater Middle East Initiative” significantly increased public interest to the conference.
George Bush intends to familiarize with this project the participants of the G-8 summit in Sea Island (Georgia) in June 2004. Washington is expressing desire to have this project supported by the leading developed countries. The key idea of the project is conducting political, economic and social reforms by the countries of the region (not only from the Middle East, but also from Northern Africa and Central Asia) in exchange to the significant financial assistance of the West to these countries. The reforms will be aimed at creating conditions for democracy and allowing the countries of the region to keep up with Western countries in terms of economic and social development. This may result in stopping instability in these countries and destroying the soul for emerging radicals and terrorists. US Vice President Richard B. Cheney said at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2004 that the key task in fighting terrorism is assisting the people of the Middle East in obtaining democratic freedoms. This great purpose will take much efforts and strength from at least one generation, Mr. Cheney believes.
The project is great indeed. Some experts are comparing it with “Marshall Plan” for Europe after the World War II, others – with the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe with participation of the former Eastern Bloc countries in the beginning of the 90s. However, the US proposal caused negative reaction within the Arabic leaders.
Syria expressed the opinion of the majority that the democracy imposed from outside would not be tolerated. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarac called this idea “raving”.
The rulers of the “Greater Middle East” countries are suspicious about the US initiative, but do agree that there is a need of reforms. They believe the reforms should take place from “inside” and take into account local cultural and social specifics. Although the desire to continue holding power can be seen behind the words of the “inside reform”. The ruling regimes want to control any reforms which may take place.
No doubt, the leaders of Arabic and Islamic countries are ready to accept aid directed at improving their countries economy and development of technologies. However, these leaders may not be ready for quitting their power in exchange of such assistance.
There are some other reasons for the skepticism of the “Greater Middle East” leaders. They do not trust the USA much because of the failure in settling the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Arabic leaders believe that the new project ignores the fact that the USA was unable to stop the conflict. Last year George Bush tried to arrange negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli leaders, and Washington called this “breakthrough”. This “breakthrough” produced little result, and more Arabs started believing that the USA is unable (or is not willing) to start the dialog between Israelis and Palestinians. Arabic leaders would like Washington to press Israel. Europeans have the same opinion. American political scientist Zbignev Brzezinski said in a Washington Post interview that Arabs and Europeans have the opinion that the USA intends to postpone solving the problem of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for this reason became preoccupied with the problem of democracy in the Middle East.
The situation in Iraq also complicates implementing the “Greater Middle East” project. French newspaper “Liberasion” quotes Klovis Maksud, the former ambassador of the Arabic League in Washington, “This project is an attempt to distract the public attention from the non-legitimate war in Iraq. Americans call the entire global community to judge the conflict on the basis of the planned result – democracy, and not on the basis of the real motive for it. And Americans try to get the G-8 involved in this project”.
There are skeptical prognoses for the future of the “Greater Middle East” project. Some experts are skeptical because the US proposals were introduced on the eve of the presidential elections in the USA. Professor of George Washington University Amitai Attsioni said, “The residents of the Middle East and those concerned about the problem of democratization would like the USA to promise less and to do more”.