January 1, 2003 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 115

Arab Media Reactions to The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative Part I: Opponents' Views

January 1, 2003
Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 115


The U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative, presented by Secretary of State Colin Powell on December 12, 2002, aroused many reactions in the Arab media. Most of those responding rejected the initiative outright, saying that the U.S. was not really interested in establishing democracy in the Middle East but was aiming to serve its own goals. Some referred to it as a "conspiracy of the Zionist lobby in America." Other columnists stated that American democracy and American culture in general were not worthy of being adopted by the Arabs and Muslims. Only a few columnists saw positive elements in it, and called for its endorsement, because the peoples of the Middle East needed it.

The Initiative Lacks Credibility

Columnists in the Arab media based this claim on the following arguments:

A. U.S. Policy Proves the Initiatives' Lack of Credibility

Salameh Ahmad Salameh, columnist for the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, wrote: "America cannot act for reform in the Arab world as long as it tramples the rights of the Palestinian people underfoot and deploys its forces in the region to wage war on an Arab state [Iraq], regardless of the world consensus that the allegations regarding [the existence] of weapons of mass destruction [in Iraq] are not the [real] reason [for the war], while it [i.e. the U.S.] remains silent about the existence of nuclear weapons in Israel."[1]

In an article titled "Yes to Democracy, No to the U.S.," Hussein Abd Al-Razaq, columnist for the Egyptian opposition daily Al-Ahali, wrote: "The American administration's talk of democracy is deception that can fool no one. It is the U.S. that toppled Allende's democratic regime in Chile and set up Pinochet's dictatorship in its stead. Today, it is the one attempting to bring down the democratically elected Chavez government in Venezuela. Its alliance with the despotic regimes in the Arab world is well known."

"The U.S. aspires to 'modernize' the despotic regimes and establish the appearance of false democracy, to be ruled by echelons and groups that are allies of the U.S. But the Arab peoples, their parties, and their political forces strive to [establish] true democracy standing against the American hegemony…"[2]

Abd Al-Karim Abu Al-Nasser, columnist for the Saudi government daily Al-Watan, wrote: "The Bush administration is trying to persuade the Arabs that their top priority should be changing the status quo in the Arab countries and that they should be pushed towards a more democratic openness. But by this he actually intends to divert attention from the real and fundamental problem – the Israeli problem – which makes the region insecure and unstable, feeds terrorism and violence, and provides some Arab regimes with justification for repressing their citizens…"

"How can the Arabs be convinced that democracy will come about by means of American military might and that the American administration truly cares about their interests, future, and welfare when it acquiesces to Israeli atrocities against the Palestinians, allows the Sharon government to do anything it wishes, and freezes the just solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict…"

"How can the Arabs be convinced that the current American administration is interested in their situation and their fate while it underrates the importance and the risk of the Israeli problem and behaves as if there were no Israeli plan of aggression and expansion against the Arabs and as if it had no desire to take over the region…?"[3]

Akhbar Al-Sharq, a Syrian opposition Website, posted an article titled "A Letter from an Arab Woman to Colin Powell" by Dr. Maya Al-Rahbi. She wrote: "No, Mr. Powell, we are not as stupid as you think; we don't have a short memory and we are no fools. True, we are peoples who have suffered repression and oppression, but because of our nobility, pedigree, and heritage can still distinguish between indecent and good, between real intentions and an attempt to play us for fools… If your (Western) civilization supports the aggressor that conquered land, expelled a people, killed, humiliated, and repressed, permit us to declare aloud that our backward reason does not agree to these crimes, because our simple hearts and our innocent minds can still distinguish between truth and falsehood, oppression and justice."

"Is it not possible that you support the plundering Zionist entity and justify its deeds because these deeds are identical to the deeds of your forefathers when they reached the new continent and desecrated the land after exterminating its original inhabitants?… [Then] your Zionist disciples came and tried to imitate your glorious historical way of life…"

"The Arab women, Mr. Powell, are not stupid enough to believe your promises that you want to liberate them. Even if they truly need it, let it not be your way… The Arab women say to you: 'Take your hands off our homeland and our existence; we want nothing to do with you, for better or for worse… Leave us alone…'"

"The group of women for whom you sketched out a rosy future during meetings between them and Ms. Cheney in the bosom of your civilization do not represent Arab women at all. No Arab woman with any common sense would be tempted [to adopt] the democracy to which you claim to adhere and want to export to us, when your history is terrifyingly rife with racism and discrimination… The system of overseeing your citizens, which you invented today, claiming defense [against terrorism], is no different than the security apparatuses in the countries to which you say you will bring democracy and civilization…"[4]

B. The Sum Allocated for the Initiative is a 'Joke'

Many writers pointed out the small amount of funds allocated for the initiative as proof that the administration was not serious about it.

Al-Ahram columnist Salameh Ahmad Salameh wrote: "The [American] administration allocated $29 million to the implementation of its project, while it discusses giving loans of tens of billions to Israel so that [Israel] will complete the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank, [and while] it allocates $300 billion to the war on Iraq. This is a bad American joke, from beginning to end."[5]

In the London-based Saudi daily Al-Hayat, columnist Salameh Na'mat wrote that Powell may be right about the need to push for democratic change in the Middle East. "However, allocating $29 million to achieve this goal, compared to the tens of billions of dollars for funding the third Gulf War, is a joke…"

"It would be better if, before wasting [the money] from the democracy fund, Washington would allocate a sum of money for persuading the peoples of the Middle East… that it is serious in its intentions regarding the region, as it allocates 10 cents for every Arab citizen and $3000 per Israeli. Doubtless Saddam Hussein fainted with laughter when he heard of the latest Powell initiative."[6]

Dr. Fahd Al-Fanik, columnist for the Jordanian daily Al-Rai, wrote: "We thought that the American secretary would present something similar to the Marshall Plan for rebuilding Europe after World War II – that changed Germany from an 'enemy' to an ally through aid for its economic revival. But the new American plan was limited to $29 million divided among 25 countries, and it is no more than a public relations campaign attempting to persuade the Arab street that America is on its side and not on the side of its enemies."[7]

C. Democratic Reform Must Come from Within not from Outside

Although Riyadh Al-Hajj, columnist for the Palestinian daily Al-Quds, acknowledged the problem that Powell addressed, he stressed that the change must be internal and must not come about through external intervention: "Secretary Powell's speech… increased the Arab leaders' worry and embarrassed them… Our problems are many, and the main ones are lack of [public] political participation, poor popular representation, lack of accountability, a weak culture of democracy, the absence of states ruled by law, unemployment, corruption, plundering of public funds, women's status, deterioration of the educational level, and frightening population growth."

"In light of the tremendous number of crises... it appears that the solution boils down to two ways... Either the Arab regimes take the initiative [and] add our country to the campaign of modernization and progress, or we leave the arena for a foreign [element] to do as it wishes and impose on us the timetable and method convenient for it. There is a need for essential and genuine change, change from deep [within] that is not [merely] cosmetic. Change is possible, and has great potential, but only if emerges from our own will – not out of striving to please the U.S…"[8]

D. Liberal Columnists Who Oppose the Initiative

Columnists known for usually liberal views also criticized the Partnership Initiative. Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, editor of the London Saudi daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, was supportive of the initiative but nevertheless stated that it was doomed to failure: "[Powell's] speech was blatantly attacked, although its content was positive… Why were these positive aspirations received with ridicule almost everywhere by Arabs?"

"In my opinion, the reason is not the plan, but its designer – that is, the U.S. The problem is with the plan's engineer, towards whom the general feelings are – rightly or wrongly – similar to feelings towards a [force] that destroys the Middle East and humiliates its Arab inhabitants. Why, then, should any group agree to cooperate with it?…"

"The $29 million that Powell volunteered so as to introduce democracy [in the Arab countries] is not the core of the problem, as some columnists have tried to claim. We are not forgetting that Washington paid Egypt $40 billion after [it made] peace with Israel. The money is not the heart of political reforms – which need not a single dollar if there is determination to establish them..."[9]

Al-Rai's Dr. Fahd Al-Fanik, who also usually expresses liberal views, was concerned that Powell's call for reforms would only harm the activity of the reformists in the Arab world: "The image of America in the Arab street is much worse than Powell thinks. It will be difficult for the U.S. to convince the Arabs that America's policy is balanced and just, and that it is not Israel's strategic ally… and even more difficult to persuade the Arabs that the U.S. is not applying sanctions on the Iraqi people but [only] on Saddam Hussein, and that it will wage war against Saddam Hussein [alone] and not on Iraq. [Similarly, it will be difficult for the U.S.] to deny that it is planning to conquer Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid state and the symbol of Arab honor, which is a new humiliation of the Arabs and Muslims in the world…"

"[Thus] adopting [the initiative] is likely to damage the popularity of these reforms and silence those advocating them, out of fear that they will be seen as 'America's propagandists'…"[10]

[1] Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 19, 2002.

[2] Al-Ahali (Egypt), December 18, 2002.

[3] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), December 15, 2002.

[4] html#2 December 23, 2002.

[5] Al-Ahram (Egypt), December 19, 2002.

[6] Al-Hayat (London), December 16, 2002.

[7] Al-Rai (Jordan), December 17, 2002.

[8] Al-Quds (Palestinian Authority), December 18, 2002.

[9] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), December 21-22, 2002.

[10] Al-Rai (Jordan), December 17, 2002.

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