International Information Programs
Office of Research Issue Focus Foreign Media Reaction

December 20, 2002

December 20, 2002




**  Arab media panned MEPI as a "misguided" effort to improve the U.S.' image in the Arab world and to gain "legitimacy" for a war against Iraq.

**  Critics dismissed MEPI as "peanuts" compared to U.S. military expenditures in the region.

**  Supporters of MEPI's goals asserted that Arabs must engineer democratic reform themselves.




MEPI overlooks 'main reasons' for the U.S.' unpopularity:  Iraq, Israel--  Arab dailies labeled MEPI a "misguided" effort by the U.S. to improve its "very bad image" in the Arab world.  The majority expressed the "core criticism" that MEPI "totally overlooks the main reasons" for the U.S.' unpopularity:  "Blind support for Ariel Sharon" and "the upcoming war against Iraq."  A Bahraini daily noted, "We hate not America, but...its blunt bias in favor of the Israeli occupation."  Others blasted what they perceived as a "PR campaign" intended to "seduce the Arab people into accepting U.S. plans against Iraq with the hope of more political freedom."  They viewed MEPI as a "simplistic" plan to "convince the Arab street that democracies in the region will start from Baghdad." 


Critics rail against 'the falsity and absurdity of Powell's speech'--  Some saw MEPI as part of "a plan for further intervention in the region's affairs."  The harshest critics blasted MEPI as American "imperialism" and the latest iteration of a U.S. drive to "subjugate" the Arabs and "control" their resources.  A Saudi editorial questioned MEPI's viability in light of the postponement--"less than a week after its birth"--of the American "roadmap" to create a Palestinian state.  Many observers skeptically addressed what they saw as Washington's belated recognition that democracy was lacking in Arab countries.  A government coalition paper from Morocco commented:  "For the first time, the United States highlights the role of the people as a priority after the U.S. has carried on its relations solely with the leaders of the region for more than 50 years."  An Egyptian editor asserted that "America does not want democracy" but wants, instead, "tailored change" in the region's governments. 


A small contingent of supporters welcomed the infusion of new ideas--  Jordanian and Lebanese media were the most receptive, recognizing the "real need" for wide-ranging reform "even if it is the Americans that tell us about it."   An Egyptian analyst, writing in leading pro-government Al Ahram, praised the goals of the initiative but urged those Egyptians who support these ideas to take upon themselves the responsibility of furthering reforms.  "Modernization is not always Westernization,” was a common refrain throughout.


EDITOR:  Gail Hamer Burke


EDITOR'S NOTE: This analysis is based on 52 reports from 15 countries, 12/12-12/19.  Editorial excerpts from each country are listed by most recent date.




WEST BANK:  "Elections Will Test Credibility Of Powell's Call For Democracy"


Mamdouh Nofal opined in independent, pro-Palestinian Authority Al-Ayyam (12/19):  "It is good that the United States is looking into the reasons behind the anti-American sentiments in the Middle East as part of its effort to reconciliate with the nations of this region.  Undoubtedly, the fact that Secretary Colin Powell has addressed the Arab and Islamic publics is a step in the right direction.  His remarks about conducting political, economic, social reforms and civic society development aim at achieving the ambitions of the peoples of this region and advancing democracy and combating poverty, illiteracy and diseases.  However, the Palestinian people are not convinced of the [seriousness of these] remarks....  Perhaps it would be useful for Secretary Colin Powell to know that the Palestinians do not trust his words and consider his initiative simplistic propaganda preceding a war against Iraq.  The Palestinians are convinced that if Sharon rejects the initiative, then the American president and Congress will take back both their initiative and their pretty words about democracy."


"Powell’s Controversial Democracy" 


Hani Al-Masri opined in independent, pro-Palestinian Authority Al-Ayyam (12/17):  “Powell has called on the nations of the region to practice democracy while he has denied the Palestinians from practicing their natural and democratic right to choose their own leadership.  The American administration has concluded that if Palestinian elections are held on January 20th, the results will challenge American ambitions and will probably affirm the legitimacy of the historic Palestinian leadership of President Arafat, so Satterfield and Burns started demanding that presidential elections be postponed and that the elections law must be changed....  They also demanded that the PA carry out reforms within its institutions and add a prime minister’s post, in an effort to predetermine the outcome of any elections.  When this American attempt failed, Washington pushed for postponing the elections altogether.  Based on this, it is hard to believe that the Palestinians will view the Americans’ call to support democracy as honest or serious.”


"MEPI:  Sponsored American Democracy"


Rajab Abu Sareih opined in independent, pro-Palestinian Authority Al-Ayyam (12/17):  “Neither the U.S. initiative [MEPI] nor its policy is aimed at improving the democratic relationship between the Palestinian people and their leadership.  The United States is interested in creating a leadership that will accept the political strategy of Sharon’s government and the future American globalization effort in the region.  The Palestinians believe that occupation is the main obstacle facing the development and growth of Palestinian society; thus talking about internal reforms without addressing the issue of occupation is no more than a hollow argument.”


"Powell’s Speech"


Talal Okal opined in independent, pro-Palestinian Authority Al-Ayyam (12/16):  “Not only does Powell continue to boycott the Palestinian president, but he has also openly embraced the views of the extremists in Israel, who call for getting rid of the Palestinian leadership.  It should be recalled that the U.S. administration had responded positively to Sharon’s request to postpone putting forward the roadmap plan until after the Israeli elections.  The picture is now crystal clear: There will be no U.S. peaceful initiatives or intervention to halt the Israeli aggression, and it is up to the Sharon government to find the appropriate way and time to get rid of Arafat and his leadership.  And even if Arafat and his leadership did go, the Palestinian people would still have to change their institutions and to wait, obediently and submissively, for Sharon's orders and measures, and for the U.S. blessings.”


"MEPI Undermines Arab Regimes"


Adli Sadeq observed in semi-official Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (12/16):  “The Middle East Partnership Initiative as announced by Colin Powell talks about democracy and development in the Arab world.  The initiative, which openly addresses American [interests], reflects the animosity and extremism of the most radical wing in the American administration toward the Arab world.  Leaders of this wing have spoken out about their intention to actively replace the values and culture of the Arab countries by means of threats and rewards. One of those leaders is Liz Cheney, who clearly stated that ‘the goal at the end is to direct the ambitions of Arabs in accordance to the interests of the U.S., and not vice-versa....  Through this initiative, the Americans want to establish direct channels with the Arab constituencies through civil society institutions....  This means that the U.S. has started its offensive against the Arab regimes, which despite their loyalty to the U.S., are not seen by the Americans as able to fulfill its demands, including its inability to confine the Islamic Jihad movement, which considers America as its main enemy.”


"Initiative Supports American Interests, Not Democracy"


Ashraf Ajrami commented in independent, pro-Palestinian Authority Al-Ayyam (12/16):  “While Powell speaks about supporting democracy, he allows himself to decide for the Palestinian people regarding choosing their leadership....  The same American attitude can also be seen regarding the Iraqi issue.  The American administration and George Bush himself have decided for the Iraqi people and the whole Arab nation that Iraq’s President Saddam is not right for the Iraqi people, and that Iraq will be better off without him....  The democracy that Washington is proposing here does not reflect the real democracy of civilized societies.  Such a democracy should be a natural and logical outcome of the basic political, social and economic needs of these countries.”


BAHRAIN:  "Why Now?"


Ahmed Kamal wrote in semi-independent Al-Ayam (12/14):  "Why now, after many long years of relations with the Arab world has America just realized that the countries of this region are backward politically, economically, scientifically and socially?  This great American discovery totals no more than $29 million?  Most of this money will be paid as salaries to American missionaries who will teach us democracy.  We know that Powell’s initiative came for one reason only, to answer the question ‘Why do Arabs hate America?’  The answer could be extremely long but summarized in one sentence.  We do not hate America, but we are against its behavior towards the future of our generations and its blunt bias in favor of the Israeli occupation.  This makes us feel oppressed and the oppressed will do anything to end the oppression.”


"Rejected By All Entities"


Sayed Zahra wrote in semi-independent Akhbar Al-Khalij (12/14):  "Powell and his aides did their best to make the initiative appear to be a response to Arab demands.  Nonetheless, we respond by stating that this initiative is rejected by all entities in the Arab world, the governments, the intellectuals, and civil society.  We reject America’s interference in our internal affairs.  We all know what America means when it says educational and media reforms.  They want to falsify our history and values by changing our educational curricula so that they can raise our children the way they want to.  Powell quoted a line of arabic poetry when he tackled the issue of women in the Middle East.  The school that the poet spoke of is a school that we will establish--not America.  There is no comparison between Shawqi’s Arab Muslim school and Powell’s Zionist American school.” 


"Clear Naivete And Unlimited Arrogance"


Hafed Al-Shaikh opined in semi-independent Akhbar Al-Khalij (12/14):  "Once again America uses the same rhetoric that it used in the fifties and sixties when it speaks about modernizing Arabs and Muslims and democratizing their regimes.  There will be more to add to Powell’s speech in every day that passes.  Soon we will hear that Iraq is the first ‘experimental lab.’  Of course, there is a big difference between the fifties and sixties and nowadays.  America used to administer its operations from a distance, but now America will be present in our homes.  It can force its projects and theories of modernization and democratization on Arab and Muslim countries.  However, the owners of the current political thinking that consists of clear naivite and unlimited arrogance will soon be facing surprises that are far more brutal than the surprises of the fifties and the sixties when the regimes in Iran and Iraq were overthrown.”


EGYPT:  "An American Joke"


Leading pro-government Al Ahram's senior columnist Salama Ahmed Salama wrote (12/19): "The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative launched by Powell...might have met with a more positive response had it not come at a time when Washington's credibility within the region is at an all time low....   It is amazing that the United States should have discovered only recently the ugliness of its image in Arab eyes and amazing that it should now decide that it is the result, not of its blind support for Israel nor of its active involvement in Zionist schemes to crush the Palestinian people, but is exclusively a product of the absence of democracy....  An attack against Iraq will only serve Israel's interests, fuel violence and terrorism in the region, and help eliminate whatever modest margin for democracy currently exists."


"Powell's Initiative And America's Credibility"


Small circulation pro-government Al Gomhouriya's columnist Abdel Wahab Aads observed (12/19): "I say we should not entirely reject nor wholly accept Powell's initiative.... The most important point Powell ignored is the need to stop Israeli violence immediately and to declare a Palestinian state within a single year....  If America is truly concerned for the future of Middle East countries, as Powell's initiative indicated, it should ask Israel to eliminate its weapons of mass destruction...release the 600 non-American detainees in Guantanamo without charges...force Israel to respect UN resolutions and evacuate Arab territories occupied in 1967; and, if Israel refuses, it should apply economic sanctions then launch a military strike, according to the UN Charter....  Justice and conscience are indivisible and double standards are unacceptable."


"Democracy For Sale"


Leading opposition Al Wafd's columnist Gamal Badawi noted (12/19):  "We regard the American initiative with suspicion....  What is the U.S. benefit from establishment of democratic regimes in Arab and Islamic states?  Has it not been the prime mover of dictatorships in the Middle East since mid-1920's?....  With whom does the United States seek this partnership?  With the governments or the nations?  Arab regimes do not want to leave power...under the pretext of fighting terrorism...and the Palestinian issue....  Can we believe Bush, Powell and Condoleezza when they show sympathy and good intentions toward us?  We want to believe them, provided they give us the freedom to build our own future without guardianship...and block Israel's instigations against us.  The United States should instead first achieve justice in Palestine and then we might believe its democratic intentions."


"Egyptian Reform And Revival And Powell’s Initiative"


Leading pro-government Al Ahram’s contributor Ibrahim El-Bahrawy wrote (12/18):  “If the pressure of ideological circumstances after September 11...led the United States to realize that its interests in the Arab world and the security of its people require helping Arab governments and nations through democratic openness...and human freedoms...this coincides with Egyptian aspirations, and will lead to cooperation in implementing them...provided that we accept our own responsibility.  Besides expanding democratic participation, the Powell initiative calls for expanding economic opportunities and directing American aid in the region towards finding jobs...and supporting educational development....  Therefore, we believe that the supporters of reform in Egypt--who exist in all political parties and who predate Powell in that call--bear a pressing national responsibility to take the initiative in implementing the Egyptian call for reform and enlightenment.  They should start a dialogue, in a democratic way that respects the opinions of the other, with the supporters and opponents of their call....  It is important that the Egyptian reform trend performs its responsibilities by benefiting from the recent reform developments in the National Democratic Party and the American initiative.  The funds allocated for the Powell initiative are not enough to achieve the aspired objectives.  It is we who should carry the responsibility of reform, while maintaining our cultural and national identity.”


"Ignoring Facts On The Ground"


Popular TV show “Good Morning, Egypt” (12/17) hosted Amr Abdel Sami’e, editor-in-chief of Al Ahram’s international edition.  He said the initiative ignores the facts on the grounds and that Powell’s call for a new Palestinian leadership ignores the undemocratic practices undertaken by Israel in the occupied territories. 


"Anti-Children Missiles"


Opposition Al Wafd’s columnist Nabil Zaki wrote (12/16):  "The United States has announced an initiative called American Middle East Partnership to expand social, economic and political development.... The fact ignored by this initiative is that the United States itself has deprived the region’s nations of all these fruits.  It has deliberately impeded a just Arab-Israeli settlement for decades....  Washington wants to turn Iraq into ‘a beacon for spreading democracy in the region’ by occupying it and subduing it to international will.  We recall Martin Indyk’s statement that the American administration preferred to check freedoms in the region to protect the Arab-Israeli peace project and contain Iran and Iraq....  We advise the United States to leave the matter of struggling for democracy to us, the nations of this region.  All we want is for the United States to ease its flagrant bias in favor of the extremist, racist, terrorist gang ruling Israel.”


"Absurdity Of Powell’s Speech"


Pro-opposition Al-Arabi’s managing editor Abdel Halim Qandil commented (12/15):  “If you want to know about the falsity and absurdity of Powell’s speech, read the reactions voiced by the Egyptian Ambassador to the U.S. and by Foreign Minister Maher. Their statements waver between implicit support and careful timidity so avoiding accusations that the rulers of Egypt are opposed to the plan.  They know the U.S. does not care about democracy.  The U.S. wants to end the service of the old cavalry and extend the service of those who prove to be loyal during the invasion of Iraq.  They want them to sell [their] national pride in return for remaining in power.  America wants a tailored change....  America does not want democracy, but like dictatorships, is trying to control the will of the people while its attempts to beautify itself are not be credible.”


JORDAN:  "MEPI And The Need For Reform"


Prominent columnist Uraib Al-Rantawi wrote in center-left, influential Al-Dustour (12/14):  “The need for political, economic, administrative, and fiscal reform in the Arab world is real, even if it is the Americans that tell us about it.  We should not suspend development programs waiting for a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict.”


"The Road Map To Democracy"


Jamil Al-Nimri wrote in independent, mass-appeal Al-Arab Al-Yawm (12/14):  “We welcome this positive and constructive position because we value democracy and yearn to be able to enjoy it.  We challenge the American administration to implement this initiative as a package, and we shall assume that Powell’s words spring from a conviction.  But we must repeat to the U.S. administration for the thousandth time that the key to gaining the confidence of the Arab peoples is through solving the Palestinian problem.  This is not new, so will the dialogue of the deaf continue?  Arab intellectuals are now convinced that the problem is not one of convincing the American administration, but the lack of an American will that is independent of Israel’s wishes.  In this context, any pressure on Arab regimes will fail because it will be seen as Zionist pressure for suspect reasons, and even democrats will feel the need to attack it.”


"Who Is Preventing Palestinian Elections?"


Mahmoud Al-Rimawi wrote in semi-official influential Al-Rai (12/14):  “Since Secretary Powell’s initiative calls for reforms in the Arab world, we should take note that people of the region should have the right to organize elections.  It is important to expose the ongoing (US-Israeli) collusion that prevents the people of the West Bank and Gaza from having their elections.  This constitutes a flagrant contradiction with the aims of the present initiative.”


“MEPI, An Attempt To Fill The Gap Of Hope”


Ramadan Rawashdeh wrote in semi-official influential Al-Rai (12/14):  “International politics is no longer concerned with what is called national sovereignty, because globalization allows the  flow of funds and information without censorship or borders and without the control of the central government, which is losing much of its prerogatives to business groups, civil society institutions, and the free media.”


"The American Program To Reform And Improve Logic"


Daily columnist Mazen Al-Saket wrote in center-left, influential Arabic-language Al-Dustour (12/14):  “The process of development should not be a cover to address the causes of hatred and enmity towards American policy.  This is an issue that should start with understanding that Arabs have independence and rights.”


"Talk And Convictions"


Tariq Masarwah wrote in semi-official influential Al-Rai (12/14):  "Secretary Powell merits applause because, after a year of hearing the United States threaten war, he chose a different language.  We wish sincerely that his call is sincere, but we are convinced that it is nothing but a specious propaganda exercise to embellish the image of the ugly American.  It is not a call for good, but a waving of the stout stick.  Is development in Palestine to be achieved by reoccupying the land and destroying the Palestinians’ authority?  Is it possible that he seeks what is in the best interest of Iraqis, when he is the successor of the Secretary who said openly that the death of half a million Iraqi children is acceptable?  Can the Lebanese be asked to cooperate with an initiative that dictates to them and that dubs the heroes that liberated the south of Lebanon as terrorists?  Would this not be a call for the return of the occupation?”


"A Failing Recipe For A Distorted Situation"


Musa Hawamdeh in Al-Dustour (12/15) argued that the U.S. is only interested in democracy in as far as it serves its own interests, that the "democracy that Washington wants is a distorted kind of democracy.  The United States wants to open the Arab lands for America first, then it wants to give orders and to get rid of  anything that could create animosity for the United States....  [The U.S.] would save millions of dollars if it would deal with the Israeli occupation as a source of terror and worry, and if it would consider the idea that its interests may not necessarily come into conflict with Arab interests if it would become an honest country and apply UN resolutions [to Israel]."


"The Partnership Initiative, Why Did The Regimes Fail To Produce One?"


Columnist Jamal Al-Tahat wrote in semi-official influential Arabic daily Al-Rai (12/16):  “The value of the initiative does not lie in the funds allocated to it, but in the idea on which it is based.  But it is also an expression of the total Arab failure, to the point where it seems as if the U.S. is siding with the Arabs against a backwardness that is of their making.”


"Jordan and the Partnership Initiative"


Prominent daily columnist Uraib Al-Rantawi wrote in center-left, influential Arabic-language Al-Dustour (12/16):   “Jordan has a national interest in the success of the agenda, regardless of what Powell said or did not say, and regardless of what any others may say.  One should not rest on the assurance of America’s friendship because no country was a closer friend of the U.S. than Saudi Arabia, and relations between the two have now deteriorated.  One would be wise to set one’s house in order before he is compelled to set them in order on unfavorable terms.”


"Powell’s Unlimited Company"


Usama Al-Sharif wrote in center-left, influential Al-Dustour (12/16):  “The main problem is that there is no Arab proposal that we may raise in the face of Secretary Powell to say to him: 'These are our terms to enter into your company.’  Then again, does he expect a response, or would he immediately point to General Franks and his big stick?  This is not Rome of Caesar, it is not the Crusaders’ Empire, it is not the hordes of Mongols, nor is it the Sykes-Picot Accord and the Balfour Declaration.  It is all of them together.”


"Powell’s Project is doomed to failure, and the proof is Jordan" 


Fahed Al-Khitan wrote in independent, mass-appeal Al-Arab Al-Yawm (12/16):  "America will spend much money without returns, although the road to gaining the hearts of the Arab public would cost it not a penny.  It only needs to change its policy in the region and then it would see not only an improvement in sentiments towards it, but the progress of democracy, because the regimes would then lose the pretexts of security and confronting Israel.”


LEBANON:  "Democracy By Imposition"


"Al-Hadath", a weekly political talk show on LBCI ran an an interview (12/15) with Egyptian human rights activist Saadeddine Ibrahim and Islamic lawyer Mountasser Azzayyat; the program covered the MEPI as part of discussions on democracy in the Arab world.  Azzayyat was skeptical about Secretary Powell's desire to "support democracy in the Arab world."  He considered it aimed at "fabricating agents to build and run research centers to point out issues related to minorities like the Berbers, the Aqbat, and electoral fraud so that the U.S. and others would always have the chance to interfere in the affairs of the country (Egypt)."  Ibrahim commented that "no one could impose democracy with a decision or by force.  Democracy is an operation that should spring out of our societies....  Democracy cannot be imposed from without and cannot be imposed neither by the power of money nor by the power of arms," he said.


"America's Discovery"


Samir Qasir wrote in moderate anti-Syria An-Nahar's Internet website (12/13):  "When they first asked: 'why do they hate us?' they meant why we, the Arabs, hate the Americans.  Now, suddenly, they've decided to love us and to give us a present: Democracy.  Thus, America has finally discovered the Arabs.  We hope something good will come out of it....  The big question here involves not the true intentions behind the American campaign for democracy as much as the way the campaign will be managed and generalized....  Will they, after abolishing Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, go for any government they can install provided that it complies with their policy and maintains security, without caring if this government represents the Iraqi people's ambitions or not?  Will they continue to assign the executioners of Arab prisons to interrogate people suspected of affiliation with 'al-Qa'idist' networks and so give certificates of good conduct to regimes that routinely use torture?....


"The ambiguity that still surrounds the new American call does not, however, exempt the Arabs from taking the issue of democracy seriously.  First of all, the Arabs need to get rid of their skepticism that the values of democracy are only a disguise of American hostility.  That the United States is not serious in its defense of democracy in many parts of the world, and that it is trying to set boundaries for its own democracy at home, does not mean there is a problem with the principles of democracy. It means that there is a problem with the U.S. approach toward democracy.  At any rate, the claim by the dictatorial Arab regimes, monarchic or republican, that they can judge this new American campaign for democracy, is ridiculous. What is more ridiculous, however, is for the [Arab] peoples to adopt the skepticism of their rulers and so accept that their freedom to choose be stolen at the moment when the United States, at long last, wakes up to its discovery of them."


"The Philosophy Of Force With Bush"


Awni Kaaki wrote in pro-Syria As-Sharq (12/17):  "Secretary Powell announced a plan, which he called the Middle East Partnership Initiative to change the political, social and economic patterns in Arab societies.   The United States has allocated $29 million for that, while the supposed war against Iraq will be costing it $100 billion dollars....  This is what falls within the frame of subduing the Arab world and controlling its capabilities to force it into accepting a new Middle East order." 


"Has Imperialism Become The Highest Level Of Democracy?"


Rafiq Khoury opined in centrist Al-anwar (12/14):  "The Bush Administration which is talking about deep changes seems today to be the prisoner of simplistic ideas.  It approaches the Middle East stage with an emperor's robe...and is carrying a nuclear bomb in one hand and the book on teaching democracy in the other.  The option it offers is not that the Arab World should change or that it should face the threat of war but that it should have both at the same time....  There is nothing new in the diagnosis of the Arab reality.... What is new is that the American administration...has seen that its policy over half a century was not suitable to preserve its national security and achieve its interests.  It is of course the policy of 'dancing with the dictators,' as described by the New York Times, while overlooking what they (Arab leaders) did to their people as long as they remained in line with the American interests.  What the Bush Administration fears is for extremist trends to find a 'Qaida' in any nation to train and lead operations, and get hold of mass destruction weapons, and for deteriorating Arab political and economic conditions to contribute in creating generations of terrorists.'


"Zero, Point, Zero..."


Joseph Samaha commented in Arab nationalist As-Safir (12/14):  "Ok, what did Colin Powell say?  He defined, in his awaited speech, the general goals of the American policy towards the Middle East, announcing no change in it.  It is according to him 'combating terrorism, dismantling Iraq's weapons, ending the Arab-Israel conflict.'...  The crucial differences with Powell is that there are those in the region who consider the drastic conditions, the American Secretary of State describes as the outcome of Washington's success in defeating the Arabs and rendering the Arab regimes followers (of the U.S.)...  When Powell launches his figures on the Arab reality, he is theoretically treating the region as one united district.  But he realizes that the ABC's of the American policy are exactly to prevent a modicum of unity, whether political or economic or strategic.  And since that unity has not been manifested, except in the cultural field, it is not strange to have this subject as the title of the new campaign....  Powell is invited while talking about 29 million dollars (more or less) to look attentively at the special figures of American weapons sales over the last decade to Arab states.  The promised assistance is zero point zero fifty eight percent of the price of those weapons.  And while Powell looks attentively at the figure, we will look attentively at a sentence he included and which read ' we have for half a century and more devoted our blood and our treasure to helping the peoples and governments of the Middle East.'  There is no need, to be honest, for much contemplation.  The sentence is almost funny unless it was meant to threaten us with a new war that is costly human and material wise."


"What Does America Want From The Arabs?"


Awni Kaaki asserted in pro-Syria As-Sharq (12/14):  "The U.S. did not launch its initiative as a target imposed by requirements for developing Arab societies, but as a pressure tool from which it aims at threatening and intimidating, to produce a break among Arab regimes and force them into submitting to the American demands of war against Iraq, and into submitting to a settlement tailored to suit Israel and in turn allow American companies to control Arab treasures including oil to be definite.  The difference is that the White House has allocated 29 million dollars for the initiative which is a low figure that can hardly be mentioned at all levels, while in turn it allocated one hundred billion dollars for the war against Iraq."


"The Wind Of Democracy Will Blow"


An editorial by Joseph Samaha in moderate, anti-Syrian As-Safir held (12/12):  "Colin Powell will allow the winds of democracy to blow towards Arabs and Muslims.  It is time to deliver the speech that was postponed.  The Secretary of State will announce that his country,...which will not change its foreign policy, has a new priority which is to encourage democracy in Arab nations.  This idea has sparked following the U.S. wrong answer to the question:  Why do Arabs and Muslims hate us?   The United States concluded that this hatred is an expression of envy towards the United States....  The United States thinks that Arabs do not want to see the real reasons behind their own failure and accuse Washington of supporting dictatorships....  What we are witnessing following September 11 really pushes us to look back to Clinton's term with longing.  Instead of the peace process we only see bias in favor of Sharon and instead of 'dual containment' we find ourselves standing before the axis of evil....  Powell will announce his billion dollar plan to encourage democracy, however, it will only look like a nail in a much bigger war plan that will cost $60-100 billion."


MOROCCO: "Powell Launches MEPI Program To Teach Arabs Democracy!"


The Islamist Party's Al-Tajdid held (12/14):  "Secretary Powell launched last week the new U.S. MEPI  initiative that aims at reinforcing democracy, education and the role of civil society in the Arab world.  The initiative is the biggest partnership the United States participates in.  Other foreign circles will also participate in this initiative.  It is worth mentioning that civil society has recently criticized harshly the U.S. administration because of its policies in what is called war on terrorism that curbs and limits individual freedoms."


"U.S.  Announces Ways And Means Of Exporting Democracy To The Middle East"


Government coalition PPS party's lttihad Al Ishtiraki held (12/14):  "The idea has been discussed for some months but has been delayed, as the  timing was not good.  Powell tried to deny the relation between MEPI and the hatred that is growing towards the United States in the Muslim-Arab world especially after September 11.  For the first time, the United States highlights the role of the people as a priority after the U.S. has carried on its relations solely with the leaders of the region for more than 50 years."


"The U.S. And The Muslim World"


Ahmed Zakihe commented in--in former Communist party--government coalition, French-language PPS Party Al Bayane  (12/14):  "Besides the laughable amount of the MEPI $29 million fund that has been suggested, American officials have not suggested anything concrete in terms of the U.S. role in the present situation in the Arab world....  The U.S. administration has constantly supported reactionary powers that guarantee U.S. interests in the region.  The U.S. has given unconditional support to the Israeli State since 1948 and to its aggressive and expansionist policy that has contributed to maintaining Arab states under the Israeli domination and ruined all hopes of renaissance.  What is more dangerous is the fact that the United States has acted against the forces of democracy and progress and used the extremist currents for its own benefit.  Nobody can refute the fact that Bin Laden is a pure creation of the CIA.... We want to say to Powell that if the United States sincerely desires to promote reforms in the Muslim/Arab world, it must clearly and solemnly state the rupture with its hostile policies against the peoples of the region....  Just expressing wishes to win the sympathy of the peoples of the region will not contribute to change a life in the right direction."


"U.S. Democracy And Non-Democratic Suggestions"


Leading conservative Government coalition Istiqlal party Al Alam decalred (12/14):  "America thinks it is responsible for democratic reforms in the Arab world.  No country can compete with the United States especially that the United States is the sole country that can provide one billion dollars for MEPI.  In any case, spending this fund on civic issues is much better than spending hundreds of billions of dollars on military actions.  We have positively received the MEPI announcement and we think that one billion dollars is the least minimum that can be spent to support this initiative."


OMAN:  "New Verities On Democracy String"


Semi-official Al-Watan held (12/14):  “Powell’s speech conveyed an apology for past mistakes and called for a new partnership between the arrogant political system and public institutions that suffer from its arrogance… Powell has chosen to address three countries--Iran, Iraq and Palestine--for his message to reach others in the Middle East, because the people of these three countries have suffered most from American-Israeli conspiracies.  Therefore, their hatred for America exceeds that of other countries....  We ask Mr. Powell, the owner of the democratic partnership invitation, does he want to remove the tone of hatred from the dictionary of American-Arab relations or discipline Arab systems, frightening them because they hesitate to support America's elimination of the Palestinian and Iraqi people as an prologue to eliminating all Arabs?  Regarding Arab women…they first need to protect their children from Israeli and American bullets before calling for freedom or the vote....  We advise the Americans to implement the basic international human rights laws first and allow Palestinians the right to live peaceful and decent lives.”


"The Needed Partnership And Initiative"


Oman's lead editorial (12/14) observed:  "The political openness Powell has called for Arab countries to adopt raises many questions....  Does it mean to obey and walk with the crowd, disregarding people’s privacy, or does it suggest dealing with principles of others by abandoning the fundamentals of their own realities?  If by this initiative the [U.S.] Secretary of State has indicated support for efforts to consolidate civil institutions that protect individual rights and provide the possibility to contribute to public life, why doesn't America take a clear stand on the violations taking place in Palestine, which human rights organizations have described as exceeding all limits?”


QATAR:  "Billions Of Dollars To Attack Iraq, And Peanuts For 'MEPI'"  


Ahmed Amorabi, columnist at semi-independent Al-Watan declared (12/17-18):  "The United States just launched a new initiative to spread democracy in the Middle East.  The cause is noble, however, the United States must chose between supporting noble principles, or giving priority to self-interests over principles.  From Truman's time to Bush, the son's, time, the United States has always given its relation with Israel top priority even over its relations with so-called 'Friendly Countries' like Saudi Arabia and Egypt.  The United States suddenly sounds like the knight that wants to save the Middle East from destruction.  The current administration is much more interested in destruction not building or re-building this region.  When it comes to democracy they allocate $29 million, 'peanuts,' but when it comes to attacking Iraq, they talk about hundreds of billions.  This Middle East partnership initiative is no more than an anesthetic until the United States finishes its mission in Iraq.  If top U.S. officials do really care about this region, they should drop all the debts of poor Arab countries, stop the IMF from imposing high interest rates on these countries, and, the most important step, stop supporting dictatorships in the region (that are considered allies and friends of the United States) because this support provides an umbrella of legitimacy which protects them from being removed and increases the level of hatred towards everything that is American."


"Is It A Real Partnership Or A Contract Of Submission?"


Abdelrazaq Makadi, wrote in semi-independent Al-Satan (12/18):  "Partnership is a contract between two or more equal partners that regulates the relationship...between them.  Whatever falls out of that framework is just plain submission to the powerful partner.  When we read Powell's statement we see U.S. arrogance brightly shining in it.  They want to impose their own perception of democracy on us.  And on the Palestinian issue...they want to impose their solution of the problem.  (Off course it synchronizes with Israel's demands) without even considering our rights and demands.  Why now?  This is my question.  And I think the answer is to pave the way to attacking Iraq by convincing the Arab street that democracies in the region will start from Baghdad.  They want us to legitimize their attack on Iraq.  This partnership could be accepted only if it was based on respect for our identity and our demands and rights, but the Americans have a different agenda.  The gap between them and us will never be decreased."  


"America Offers The Mideast A Handout"  


Abdul Kareem Hashish, wrote in semi-independent Al-Raya (12/16-17):  "Let us discuss MEPI through the statements of the State Department Director for Policy Planning Richard Haas.  Haas stated to the London-based Al-Hayat that the American plan to spread democracy in the Mideast will not be imposed on the leaderships or the people of the region.  He added that if the United States will not adopt an active policy that gradually supports democracy in the Middle East, lots of states in the region will not be stable and that will cause a huge number of serious problems to the United States.  Haas also admitted that the only people in the region that are ready for democratic rule are the Palestinians.  However what is new about this initiative?  Nothing. The United States new plan is no more than a PR campaign.  Allocating $29 million is not even enough to launch an advertising campaign in the United States for a local domestic product.  Plus, how can I believe that the United States is really looking to spread democracy in my region?  The United States was and still is supporting dictatorships in the Middle East.  The United States still supports and will continue to support the State terror of Israel.  The United States record of violations against humanity is completely black, how can we forget Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  Yes I am hungry for democracy.  And yes I am dying for this initiative but I cannot accept it because the United States is not helping.  They are offering a handout."     


SAUDI ARABIA:  "Prepared By Haass, Burns and Cheney's Daughter, It Embarrassed Powell"


London-based, pan-Arab Al-Sharq Al-Awsat opined (12/19):  "It was so nice to hear Colin Powell's initiative on the Middle East partnership....  But America has no principles, it believes in double standards.  In the eyes of America, not all people are equal....  Does Powell want this partnership not to include the Palestinians, unless they change their leadership?  It is more important for the Palestinians to provide bread for their children than to change their leadership....  Washington knows clearly that that the road to democracy in the Arab world is too long.  It is more important to build trust first between the United States and the Arabs and then between Arabs and Israel....  How would Arabs embrace democracy, when America considers Israel to be a democracy?  Israeli leaders practice democracy within Israel and practice aggression and occupation with the Palestinians....  Ms. Cheney was clear when she said, we don’t expect our initiative to solve complicated issues, like terrorism, Iraq and Arab-Israeli conflict....  Powell cannot be naïve when he said, for more than half a century we devoted ourselves to help the Middle East and its governments!  We have never expected America to be another Mother Teresa, who gives and gives for nothing in return....  Unfortunately, no matter what the U.S. administration does to make the Arab street forget the Palestinian issue, it will not succeed, because the Israeli brutality can never be defendable.  And the result is what the United States is worried about Islamic extremism, with retaliation in mind....  The initiative is an optimistic step, but America can not carry it out.  Less than a week after the birth of the initiative, America has killed it when President Bush decided to freeze the 'roadmap,' because Israel asked him to wait after its elections....  For Bush's information, Arabs trust, like and respect Colin Powell and they won’t be provoked to give a chance for the hawks in his administration to win over Powell. " 


SYRIA:  "A Very Astonishing 'Initiative'"


Government-owned Tishreen editorialized (12/15):  "The initiative...arouses strong astonishment at U.S. policy and prompts us to ask in a loud voice: where does the U.S. Administration want to take the region?  This so-called initiative forcibly imposed by the Americans is in fact a plan for further intervention in the region's affairs....  It must be reaffirmed that the Arab region does not need U.S. recipes for democracy and the reforms resulting from them....  The Arabs' main calamity is Israel.  Washington, which claims it wants to offer its services to the region, does not cease providing aggressive Israel with funds, weapons, and political support.  This cannot be in the interest of the Arabs.  Support for Israel means support for its aggression against the Arabs and evaporation of the hopes for reaching just peace, security, and stability, which the region really needs.  When Washington ignores all these calamities and speaks about so-called democracy and reform, this means that it harbors something very bad for the Arabs and their causes and prepares for a new stage of Israeli aggression and terrorism."


UNITED ARAB EMIRATES:  "MEPI A New Burden And A Surprise For Arab Leaders"


Riyadh Al Haj wrote in Sharjah-based pan-Arab Arabic-language Al Khaleej (12/17):  "There is a great deal of criticism about the nature, goal, and timing of the American initiative.  Many official and public parties stress that the U.S. only wants to subjugate the Arabs, control their resources, and give Israel the freedom to do anything it likes in the occupied territories. These allegations contain a high degree of realism; in fact, we can say that Arabs will suffer even more injustice because of U.S. government policies....  However, all this will solve nothing....  Real and serious change is required.  The change must be in-depth and not restricted to cosmetic forms.  There is a big chance to (effect change) only if it is based on our will, not only to please the U.S., which has become an official priority recently."


"Of Course Israel Is Excluded"


Qatar University journalism professor Ahmed Al Qadidi commented in Dubai-based, business-oriented Al Bayan (12/17):  "Who else could the MEPI be meant for except the Arabs?  Washington considers Israel a democratic country, because it holds elections and authority is peacefully transferred.  It does not matter if Israeli courts allow torture, and the Israeli arsenal is full of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, not to mention the existence of 10,000 prisoners and 4 million Palestinian refugees.  Furthermore, Amnesty International issues continual reports condemning state terrorism against women, children, the disabled, civilians, and the destruction of houses and farms....  The United States is confronting its accumulated mistakes and wrong choices in a laughable way; it allocates $29 million to defend democracy and freedom, while it opens Guantanamo camp and allows killing and torture in Palestine.  As the sole superpower in a world in which two-thirds suffer from injustice, poverty and disease, the U.S. should rethink its priorities on a moral basis.  The historical reason for such sufferings is the blindness of the United States and  its inability to distinguish right from wrong."


"'Modernization Is Not Always 'Westernization'"


Mustafa Al Fiqi wrote in Sharjah-based pan-Arab Al Khaleej (12/17):  "Secretary Powell links U.S. aid to the region with progress in reform but excludes Israel.  The U.S. logic gives Israel preference over the whole region, ignoring the fact that the Hebrew state suffers from racism, the effects of which are worse than the absence of democracy in the Arab world....  We must [also] remind the balanced Secretary of State that 'Modernization is not always Westernization.'  Cultural particularities, religious sensitivities, cultural heritage, and national trends are things to be considered when dealing with the development of nations and peoples.  I would like to tell our fiends in the U.S. through its Secretary of State that there must be no delay in settling the (Arab-Israeli) conflict prior to reform."


"A Combination Of Concern And Selectivity"


Abu Dhabi-based semi-government Al Ittihad editorialized (12/14):  "Whatever the reaction to MEPI, the initiative itself indicates the start of a serious American interest in the region's issues.  The initiative comes late in view of the difficult situation in the region due to the persistence of the Israeli occupation....  We hope that the U.S. public relations initiative to refurbish its image in the Arab world will turn into a firm commitment to achieve a comprehensive peace based on the pillars of political, economic, and educational development and prosperity."


"'Good' For Whom?"


Sharjah-based pan-Arab Al Khaleej commented (12/14):  "Suddenly, the U.S. wants 'good' for Arabs.  Who will believe that after the long U.S. history of suppressing them, supporting their enemy, violating their rights, and encouraging everything negative in this region for decades?  How will people believe in what Powell says, when Washington works to strengthen the Israeli suppression in Palestine, prepares for the greatest destructive aggression against Iraq, encourages dividing Iraq as well as Sudan, threatens Saudi Arabia, and has other actions on its endless list of injustices."


"Clear Evidence Of A Military Strike And Regime Change"


Dubai-based business-oriented Al Bayan editorialized (12/14):  "This initiative is an American attempt to seduce the Arab people to accept U.S. plans against Iraq with the hope of more political freedom and democracy in the future.  The United States also uses the initiative as a stick brandished in the face of Arab regimes to facilitate agreement for the strike against Iraq.  We may recall the same trick during the war on Afghanistan, when Washington announced a favorable position regarding the Palestinian issue to guarantee Arab and Islamic support to destroy Afghanistan.  However, after achieving its target, removing Taliban and destroying al-Qaida, Washington broke all its promises regarding Palestine....  Thus, the Arab world must not be fooled by this new trick leading to more bloodshed in the streets of Baghdad.  Simultaneously, Arab regimes must adopt different strategies stemming from national goals based on encouraging public freedom and liberating political practices from imposed restrictions.  Otherwise, the regimes will discover they have to do this under U.S. threat, according to an American strategy, the target of which is against the interests of Arab governments and peoples."




ISRAEL:  "Democratization's Stick and Carrot"


Middle East affairs commentator Guy Bechor wrote in mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (12/19): "As long as the current Arab regimes are in place, there is little chance of a democratization process in their countries.  Those regimes have been unable to offer their peoples hope for a better life; for half-a-century, they have uttered a single message: stalemate (which, for some reason, the West translates as 'stability')....  The only chance of change lies in a stick-and-carrot U.S. aid policy, but that element is totally lacking from the new [U.S.] initiative....  If the U.S. truly aspires to transform this conservative region and to establish new, pluralist, open, integrative and non-oppositional Arab regimes, the ouster of both regional inciters, Saddam and Arafat, is a necessity.  At the same time, one cannot evade linking the status of democracy in each Arab state to both American and international foreign assistance.  This is particularly relevant in the case of Egypt....  Arab regimes raise the jaded claim that the Arab masses have no bread and no jobs, making a discourse on rights superfluous.  If the U.S. truly yearns for democratization and better life in our sad region, it must clarify that the order should be reversed and that only rights and freedoms will ultimately bring bread and jobs, too."


"Powell's Simple Truth"


Conservative Tel Aviv University researcher in Syrian/Lebanese affairs Yossi Olmert wrote in mass-circulation, pluralist Yediot Aharonot (12/16):  "Colin Powell, one of the most important statesmen in the world, proclaimed a new American approach to understanding Middle Eastern reality....  Powell did not create an automatic linkage between lack of democracy and lack of peace, but he came closer to doing so than any of his predecessors at the State Department.  But this is not an original American approach.  It was actually Binyamin Netanyahu who remarked upon this in July 1996, in his first speech as Israel's prime minister to the U.S. Congress.  Since then, Netanyahu has developed the idea, which is so self-evident, but he was very much scorned, mainly by the architects of the Oslo Agreement and their...advocates in the Israeli media.  Had Israel remembered that simple truth, maybe it would not have been able to avoid signing the accords, but, had it acted differently, it would have been possible to monitor them....  Powell's speech is an answer to needs induced by reality.  It integrates into the preparations to replace the Iraqi regime following the impending war.  But it is also linked to increasing pressure on Bush by U.S. political elements--mainly in his party--to revise fundamentally the approach to a solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, in a spirit that would not counter Israel's basic interests.  Israel can, and ought to encourage those elements, but it is doubtful whether what it is doing at present is helpful in the matter.  What is needed is a dynamic Israeli approach.  Even in these pre-election days, which are politically and intellectually shallow, Israeli leaders had better carefully listen to Powell's speech.  They stand to learn some important points from it."


GERMANY:  "U.S. Checkbook Diplomacy"


Martina Doering maintained in left-of-center Berliner Zeitung (12/16):  “The Bush administration has realized that it has an image problem....  The more intense the preparation for an Iraq war become, the more resistance there is in Muslim countries, but also among U.S. allies.  The image campaign is supposed to fix this problem....  The fact that the message was delivered by Secretary Powell did not enhance its value.  He has hardly played a role recently, and many observers believe he has been politically outmaneuvered.  Nevertheless, the program has some merit.  It tackles, albeit only symbolically, one of the main problems.  After all, development in the Arab world is stagnating....  The guilty parties are mainly the kings and autocratic presidents ruling from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, but the United States keeps supporting these regimes.”


BELGIUM:  "U.S. Check For Arab Democrats"


Baudouin Loos commented in left-of-center Le Soir (12/14):  “The United States decided to suit the action to the word, by granting a $29 million check, i.e. less than 25 cents per inhabitant.  The origin of this initiative, according to U.S. media, is the very bad image which the United States enjoys in this part of the world....  The problem is that this partnership totally overlooks the main reasons why the United States is so unpopular, like, for instance, its blind support of Ariel Sharon or the upcoming war against Iraq, while Saudi, Egyptian, and Tunisian ‘friendly’ regimes continue to flout human rights.  Will Uncle Sam send them missiles and Marines to impose democracy?  No, but he signed a $29 million check.”


CHINA (HONG KONG SAR):  "Misguided Approach"


The independent English-language South China Morning Post noted (12/16):  "Secretary Powell announced a program to modernize Arab society....  It is difficult not to view Mr. Powell's announcement with anything other than cynicism.  Mr. Bush is desperate for Arab support for an Iraqi war, and the promise of cash would be a powerful incentive.  But even if this is not the case, believing that terrorist groups are the direct result of a lack of democracy is simplistic at best and misguided at worst.  Rising anti-Americanism in Arab and Muslim countries is in large measure the result of the Bush administration's insensitivity to and inaction on the conflict between Palestinians and Washington's key ally in the region, Israel.  This inaction, not merely poverty or a lack of free speech, has spawned Hamas and al-Qaida...more good can be done by addressing the core issue, not American self-interest."



Commentary from ...
Middle East
East Asia
South Asia
Western Hemisphere

This site is produced and maintained by the U.S. Department of State. Links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.

Back To Top

blue rule
IIP Home  |  Issue Focus Home