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Mahathir: No Muslim Country Among 'Developed' Nations - 2002-07-19

Malaysian Prime Minister, Mahathir Mohamad, fresh from a by-election victory for his ruling coalition, said the Muslim world is at a low ebb. Mr. Mahathir said Muslim countries needed to develop their industrial potential. Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told an audience of academics and diplomats the Islamic world is "hopelessly backward."

The comments come just a day after the coalition government he leads won the national parliamentary seat that had been held by Fadzil Noor, the late opposition leader of the Pan Islamic Party, PAS. PAS advocates introducing the strict Islamic criminal code called Hudud throughout Malaysia.

The code's harsh punishments such as stoning and amputations may have helped boost support for Mr. Mahathir's governing coalition in Thursday's by-election. PAS, however, succeeded in retaining Mr. Fadzil's state government seat.

In his comments Friday, Mr. Mahathir said there was not a single Muslim country to be found among the developed world.

As prime minister of Malaysia over the past 22 years, Mr. Mahathir has steered the country toward industrialization, raising living standards while maintaining a tight grip on power.

He said Muslims worry too much about issues such as Islamic dress codes while other crucial issues are ignored.

Since the September 11 terror attacks in the United States, Mr. Mahathir's hardline approach to Islamic militants has earned him greater respect in Washington. But Friday, Mr. Mahathir warned that any U.S. attack on Iraq to oust its leader, Saddam Hussein, would only provoke great hatred toward Washington from the Muslim world. He said an attack would make it more difficult for Muslim countries to show the more moderate face of Islam.