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French Version

Morocco meeting to discuss U.S. Mideast reform plan

International finance on agenda

The "Forum for the Future" opening Saturday in Rabat to deal with a reform agenda in the Arab world will be an occasion for the countries of the Middle East and North Africa to discuss financial reform and express their views on U.S. hopes of spreading democracy throughout the distrustful region.

The U.S. project for democratic reform is far from meeting unanimous approval, and Washington now seems to have accepted that reform must come from within rather than be imposed from without.

The forum is the first meeting to be launched within the framework of the so-called Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) initiative, which President George W. Bush launched at a G8 summit meeting in Seal Island, Georgia in June. The meeting was supposed to bring together foreign and finance ministers from more than 20 Arab countries as well as from the G8 group of industrialized powers - Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States - and delegates from international organizations.

But only a couple of days before the meeting, the exact composition of the various delegations was still uncertain, although the presence of US Secretary of State Colin Powell was confirmed.

The U.S. State Department insists that forum members support a common program to promote universal values such as human dignity, democracy, economic progress and social justice.

The fact is, however, that the attempt to promote democracy has met with particular hostility from some Arab governments, with Egypt and Saudi Arabia heading the resistance to reforms imposed from the outside.

Critics say the United States is badly placed to give lessons to the Arab world so long as it is embroiled in Iraq and so long as the Palestinian crisis persists.

Democracy is still on the agenda, but the task of promoting it has been scaled back and confided to an "assistance dialogue" bringing together governments and civil society organizations. The United States seems to be resigned to the idea that democratic reforms must come from within and must be adapted to the rhythm of each country.

Otherwise, the State Department says the forum will be an occasion to discuss concrete measures such as improvements in international financing, microcredit to encourage the growth of small businesses and the promotion of literacy.

The host country, Morocco has taken the risk of revealing the split between its official pro-American policy and the profound anti-Americanism rampant in popular opinion. A big street demonstration Nov. 28, which drew some 50,000 people, expressed solidarity with the Palestinian cause and the Iraqi people, as well as opposition to the holding of the Forum for the Future in the Moroccan capital.

Beirut,12 13 2004
The Daily Star
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