Assyrian International News Agency
The United States broadly supports the findings of a United Nations report that calls for comprehensive political, economic and social reforms in the Arab world.
The Arab Human Development Report 2004: Towards Freedom in the Arab World, first released in Amman, Jordan, on April 5, was issued in the United States at a forum at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington April 21.
Written by an independent group of leading Arab scholars and intellectuals, the report was sponsored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the Arab Fund for Economic and Social Development and the Arab Gulf Program for U.N. Development Organizations.
J. Scott Carpenter, deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau for Near Eastern Affairs, a commentator at the forum, said the report "is a catalyst for discussions and shaping policy that will ultimately address the needs of the people in the region."
Carpenter said that after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, one of the long-term measures of the Bush administration was "the rigorous examination of our long-standing policies in the region," and that "quite independently, we reached conclusions broadly similar to those in the report."
Carpenter echoed President Bush's November 2003 speech at the National Endowment for Democracy, where the president said, "As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export."
Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, U.N. assistant secretary-general and assistant administrator in the Regional Bureau for Arab States at the UNDP, in presenting the report, said that "partial reforms will not do the job anymore." She went on to say that the conclusion reached in the report calls for "a comprehensive reform" encompassing the political, economic and social sectors.
Hunaidi said the three leading priorities in the Arab world today are: lifting the internal states of emergency by individual governments in the wake of the September 2001 attacks; ending all forms of discrimination against minorities and dissident groups; and laying the groundwork for fully independent judiciaries.
Hunaidi said the most plausible scenario for reform in the Arab world now rests on external initiatives by the United States and European countries that have followed after September 11, 2001. Such initiatives include the Middle East Partnership Initiative (MEPI) and the G8's Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative. However, she warned that ultimately reform would have to come from within the Arab world and that no imported models can do the job alone.
Marina Ottaway, a Carnegie senior associate who was the other commentator, said although there has been "a sea-change" in the Arab world since the 1960s, "a lot of distance still separates" Arab and U.S. perspectives.
Ottaway said that democracy in the Arab world cannot be imposed from the outside and that it is not the most important factor in reforming the region. She emphasized that the "language of the intellectuals" in the report will need to be "translated" to the Arab man in the street.
Ottaway said that in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks, Islamist political parties tended to be shunned. But she warned that a dialogue needs to take place with such groups and that the United States and the West should not hinder such a dialogue. "The Islamist organizations must be part of the process," she said.
In the question and answer period that followed, Carpenter said that since the report had concluded its research in July 2004, it had not taken into account several reform movements in the Middle East, such as the recent successful elections in Iraq and the Palestinian areas, municipal elections in Saudi Arabia, the uprising in Lebanon against the Syrian occupation and new family laws in Morocco.
However, Carpenter concluded that caution was needed about this "Arab Spring" because it has only just begun.
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