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Barely disguised cynicism as G8 adopts US plans for democratizing the Middle East

Our Own Correspondent

One sometimes wonders how George W. Bush and other US officials can so seriously utter claims and statements that they and those around him must know are recognised around the world as absolute nonsense...

One sometimes wonders how George W. Bush and other US officials can so seriously utter claims and statements that they and those around him must know are recognised around the world as absolute nonsense. The Middle East Initiative that was agreed by the leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) – the US, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Russia, supposedly the eight most powerful countries in the world – at their summit in Georgia, USA, from June 11-13 is designed to position the US as the champion of democracy and political reform in the Arab Middle East.

The Middle East Initiative calls for political, economic and social reform throughout the Arab world and other Muslim countries, as a means to counter anti-Western sentiments, political resentments and the growth in support for "terrorist" organisations. It is part of Bush’s personal "grand vision", which he hopes will help carry him to an election victory in November. It is also a central plank of the Bush administration’s attempt to rehabilitate its image in the Middle East, and it also ties in with the US’s attempt to present its invasion of Iraq as an altruistic policy pursued for the benefit of the Iraqi people, rather than for the US’s national interest and profits for Western corporations.

The US is well aware that the dictatorial regimes that dominate the region are deeply unpopular with their own people, who yearn for political open-ness and the freedom to determine their own political agendas. The US is also aware that most people in the region associate it with those dictatorial regimes, which are uniformly pro-Western in outlook, and depend entirely on Western support for their survival; indeed, exist primarily to serve Western interests rather than their own societies’ interests. The Middle East Initiative seeks to exploit the unpopularity of Arab regimes, hoping that the US can come to be seen as a friend and champion of the aspirations of ordinary people in the region, rather than the ultimate cause of their oppression. To this end, the initiative also includes plans for massive western propaganda in the region, and programmes to influence local opinion through media, educational and cultural projects.

The initiative, although adopted by the G8, was greeted with scepticism by some of its members. French prime minister Jacques Chirac was dismissive, saying that "there is no ready-made formula for democracy readily transposable from one country to another." The plan has also drawn criticism from Arab regimes. Egypt and Saudi Arabia refused to attend the summit in protest at what they said were attempts to impose Western values on their countries; few doubt that their real concern is for their power, which depends entirely on suppressing their people’s own values and political culture – those of Islam. Tony Blair, the US’s closest ally among Western countries, was at pains to emphasise the extent to which these countries have been involved in the plans; the US and its allies would prefer to achieve the illusion of ‘reform’ without risking the instability and uncertainty that could result from regime change, even if the new regimes would also be pro-western.

Even though the initiative is already being treated with scepticism, and appears to have little prospect of changing popular attitudes towards the US in the Muslim world, it is likely to become a major plank of US policy in the region as the US state and associated non-state institutions put their considerable financial and other resources behind it. In real terms, its main target is likely to be Iran: the US would like to see the region’s only truly independent government replaced by one that is more amenable to Western hegemony. The likelihood is that, as so often before, the freedoms the US promotes will be restricted to a tiny proportion of secularist, pro-Western Muslims, while the Islamic movements and activists that genuinely reflect the political culture and aspirations of the region, and are committed to real political change, will continue to be subjected to appalling repression.

Article from

Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 5

Jumada' al-Ula' 13, 14252004-07-01

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