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Arabs Encouraged by G8 Initiative - 2004-06-10


Arab countries are reacting positively to calls by the Group of Eight industrialized nations for reforms in the region. But there are some who believe reform efforts need pressure from democratic countries.

For many in the Middle East, the key part of the G8 statement is that the pace and scope of reform should be left up to each country, and done without outside pressure.

The former foreign minister of Egypt and former head of the Arab League, Esmat Abdel Meguid, says that is the kind of wording Arab leaders can support. He says outside interference in Arab affairs has always drawn a negative response from the public and, in turn, has enabled Arab leaders to resist pressure for change. He says Wednesday's adoption of language respecting the internal authority of each country will find broad support throughout the region.

"As far as this is to cooperate, coordinate, I think this could be helpful," he said. "I think there are a lot of things to be done in our area regarding politically, economically, socially and I am sure, speaking for myself, certainly we would welcome this kind of opening. And, in a very clear and honest way, and respecting of each other's intelligence."

The head of the al-Quds Center for Political Studies in Jordan, Uraib el-Rantawi, agrees that the final wording adopted at the G8 conference will be viewed in the Arab world as an effort by Western nations to engage in honest dialogue regarding reform. But Mr. el-Rantawi says there are many in the region who believe the G8 conference should have used stronger language.

"If there is no serious pressure on some conservative regimes in Arab countries, the dictatorships, the totalitarian regimes here and there, I think without such pressure there will be no serious movement toward reform," said Uraib el-Rantawi. "Nobody will be allowed or even able or willing to let down his authority without pressure from inside and from outside, at the same time. The door should be open for some pressure including economic pressure, social pressure because for many Arab regimes they will not listen to their people. There is no internal pressure from within. Therefore, I think a part of the process should be pressure from democratic countries. Otherwise, they will not move."

The G8 conference also stressed the need to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict as part of its broader initiative for political and economic reform in the region.

According to the head of the political science department at Lebanese-American University in Beirut, Sami Baroudi, progress on the Israeli-Palestinian front could give Arab leaders a greater incentive to institute reforms.

"Now there is a clear link between the progress on the peace track, which is very important for the Arab countries and the issue of reform which, I guess is very important for the United States," he said. "So, at least now you see this linkage between peace in the region and the notion of democracy. The two issues are no longer separate."

Senior officials in Egypt and other Arab countries say the path to peace and reform in the region has been made clearer by the G8 resolution. As one senior official put it, the groundwork is being laid for lasting partnerships to emerge in place of what he called past suspicions and resentments.

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