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The Democratisation Factor.

On Dec. 16, Associated Press quoted Dawood Al Shirian, a political analyst in Saudi Arabia, as saying that the capture of Saddam meant that "for the first time, an Arab dictator is being held accountable for his actions. That will encourage the Arab street to be more forceful in pushing for their rights because they now know that it's not impossible to hold a dictator accountable". Oppressive Arab governments "must feel unhappy", he added, "because they can now see that a society without institutions, human rights and democracy will meet the same fate as Saddam's regime".

The landmark speech by US President George Bush to the National Endowment for Democracy on Nov. 6, focusing on democratisation of the Middle East, has become the subject of intense scrutiny by most Arab regimes and the Shiite theocracy in Iran. Depending on which regime is doing the scrutiny, the contents of the speech are being interpreted either positively or negatively. Bush's remarks were calibrated well enough to send messages subtle enough to be well understood by leaders throughout the Arab world.

The main message of his speech was that democracy would be a central pillar of what may become "the Bush doctrine" for the Middle East, which will focus on the aggressive use of both carrots and sticks to achieve regional policy objectives. Rewards will be given to those who are prepared to change in the way the US wants, and this means changing how countries in the area have functioned ever since their independence over the past six decades.

In his speech, Bush essentially expressed the neo-conservative view that, since American engagement with and support for regimes in the Middle East over the past decades has not resulted in a pro-US sentiment among the general public, the only option left is to insist on democratisation. Bush pointed out: "Our commitment to democracy is also tested in the Middle East, which is my focus today and must be a focus of American policy for decades to come. In many nations in the Middle East, countries of great strategic importance, democracy has not yet taken root".

Bush added: "The United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East". He set the tone of his message to key regional leaders at three levels: (1) an implicit criticism of the royal regime in Saudi Arabia, (2) a direct criticism of and advice to the Mubarak regime of Egypt, and (3) an explicit condemnation of the Baathist regime of Syria - with Iran mentioned alongside.

Now that Saddam is in custody, Iraq looks likely to become a test case for democratisation. So do the Palestinians. Washington has in recent weeks come out strongly against any move by Palestinian President Yasser Arafat to undermine the ability of Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei to provide security for Israel through peace negotiations.

It is important to note, however, that Arab regimes have increasingly begun to take into account the necessity of political reform, even in a very limited form, to the long-term stability and durability of their countries. A few of them have taken such measures under pressure, while others have tended to move ahead on their own.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Operations in Oil Diplomacy
Geographic Code:70MID
Date:Dec 22, 2003
Previous Article:The Saddam Factor.
Next Article:The Succession Factor.

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