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Analysts React Cautiously  to Bush Mideast Policy Speech - 2003-11-07

President Bush's call for greater democracy in the Middle East is drawing a cautious response from commentators in the region, who say the United States must first show it is honestly moving to resolve regional conflicts.

Tawfiq Abu Baker is the head of the Amman-based Jenin Center for Strategic Studies. He says, many in the Arab world welcome what he calls invitations toward democratic forms of government. But he says many distrust Washington, which is widely perceived among Arabs as leaning in its Middle East policy toward Israel.

"The Arabian people are in need really for such invitations and for such pressure from outside to urge the governments in the area to have more democracy," he said. "But when it is coming from America, it must be connected with the situation in the Israeli-Arab conflict. I mean it must be speaking about the two issues connected together."

Political scientist Hassan Nafae, of Cairo University, says the continuing violence in Iraq, where the U.S.-led coalition strives to establish a democratic form of government, is also making many Arabs suspicious of U.S. intentions.

"What the people are watching in Iraq are just ruins and killings and bloodshed and terror, and so on," he said. "So, we don't see any democracy in Iraq right now, and most of the people don't believe right now the intention of the United States."

The situation in Iraq, and continuing Israeli-Palestinian hostilities, says Mr. Nafae, have created an environment, in which democracy is unlikely to take root.

"You cannot have a democracy in destabilized countries, or a destabilized region, and we all understand that this region is an unstable one," he said. "Unless we resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict, you will have a very troubled region for a long time. So, the better thing to do, or the right thing to do, is to first solve the regional conflicts, and then ask the people to enhance democracy. But if you leave the Israelis to occupy the Palestinian territories, menace Syria, and you have the probability of a big regional conflict or big wars in the region - how you can achieve democracy in this case?"

Despite Washington's support for a future Palestinian state, analysts say the United States is perceived by Arabs to be pro-Israeli in the region.

The head of the 22-member Arab League, Amr Moussa, was among those to accuse the United States of pro-Israeli bias.

"What has led to the overwhelming and growing hatred of U.S. policy is the United States' 'total bias' toward Israel," he said. "That bias has reached such an extent that the United States can no longer be considered an honest broker in the Middle East."