Saturday, November 12, 2005

Egypt "Scuttles" U.S. Sponsored Meeting In Bahrain

The Bush administration's vision of a democratic Middle-East is not sitting well with one of the U.S.' main Muslim allies, Egypt. The conference's final declaration supporting democracy was blocked by Egypt over which types of political parties would be eligible for Western aid.

The U.S. organized a meeting of Foreign Ministers in Bahrain to work out arrangements to implement the previously announced "Broader Middle East and North Africa initiative." This basically is supposed to shovel money at opposition politicians and parties in the Muslim world in order to help foster "democracy."

Not surprisingly, except maybe to the U.S., Egypt's authoritarian government is balking at the idea. Egypt wants any assistance to go to strictly "legally registered" parties. That means that the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned religious party, would be ineligible. So too would any truly popular secular party that might arise. The Egyptian regimes of Mubarak and earlier, Sadat, became accustomed to our lavish support in exchange for their usefulness to U.S. foreign policy goals. It is not as if we are turning off the spigot of funding to Mubarak, he will still get by far the lion's share.

The U.S. policy of pushing a more pluralistic Middle-East is intended to extend to all the nations of the region. Whether or not we end up displacing any of our allies by this program remains to be seen. I rather doubt we will push things that far. We seek only to be seen by the "Arab street" as encouraging a democratic system.

The time-tested system of funding opposition parties through the CIA is evidently not accomplishing enough in this post 9-11 world. At least not in the authoritarian countries. Such a program suffers from its very utility. It is secret, and thus not able to get the mileage for our assistance we desire in the minds of the average Muslim.


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