Disagreements Mar Mideast Democracy Summit (AP) By ANNE GEARAN MANAMA, Bahrain 11/12/05 4:04 PM)
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MANAMA, Bahrain -- A U.S.-backed summit meant to promote political
freedom and economic change in the Middle East ended Saturday
without agreement, a blow to President Bush´s goals for the troubled
A draft declaration on democratic and economic principle was shelved
after Egypt insisted on language that would have given Arab
governments greater control over which democracy groups receive
money from a new fund.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also used the conference to
send a message to Syrians chafing under authoritarian rule, saying
Washington backs their "aspirations for liberty, democracy and
justice under the rule of law."
Bush hosted a coming-out party for the Forum for the Future last
year at Sea Island, Ga., and the U.S. is putting up half of the $100
million in a venture capital fund for economic development launched
at this year´s gathering.
The White House had hoped the conference would showcase political
progress in a part of the world long dominated by monarchies and
single-party rule, and spread goodwill for the U.S.
American officials seemed startled that an ally, Egypt, threw up a
Egypt receives nearly $2 billion annually in U.S. aid, second only
to Israel. The country held its first multiparty elections this
year, but remains under the firm control of President Hosni Mubarak.
Rice chose Egypt as the site for a widely noted June speech
promoting democracy. An earlier visit was postponed in a dispute
over the jailing of a democracy activist, who was later released.
The disappointing outcome at the conference followed a rocky summit
a week ago in Argentina, when Bush got a cold shoulder from some
Latin American leaders, failed to win consensus on a free trading
bloc for the Western Hemisphere and endured biting criticism from
anti-U.S. protesters and Venezuela´s leftist president, Hugo Chavez.
In Bahrain, tense negotiations in private over the language of a
final statement could not persuade the Egyptians. Egypt´s foreign
minister, Ahmed Aboul Gheit, left the session before a closing press
"We didn´t withdraw" from the conference, he said later. "What
happened is that the meeting took so long, more than it was
Bahrain´s foreign minister, Sheik Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, told
reporters the declaration will come up again, perhaps at a gathering
scheduled for Jordan next year.
"We don´t want to issue a haphazard decision," Khalifa said. "We
decided we will come back to it one day."
Many Middle East nations are wary of Bush´s second-term democracy
agenda for the region. Some organizations that the administration
has tried to engage are reluctant to take money from the U.S.
"It would be a disaster for this region if the region thought
democracy is an American idea," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
said at the closing press conference, where the final agreement had
been expected to be released.
"America is a great country but democracy was born in Greece, just
across the Mediterranean," from the Middle East, Straw said.
As intended, the 36-nation session launched a $100 million venture
capital fund to promote economic enterprise. The fund includes $50
million from the United States, with contributions from Egypt,
Morocco and Denmark.
The conference also started a $50 million foundation aimed at
promoting democracy and political change in the Middle East.
Both initiatives were shepherded by U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary
of State Liz Cheney, the vice president´s daughter. She accompanied
Rice on a Mideast trip to Bahrain, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan,
Israel and the West Bank.
U.S. officials said the sticking point was a passage in the
declaration that pledged "to expand democratic practices, to enlarge
participation in political and public life and to foster the roles
of civil society," including nongovernmental organizations, and to
widen women´s political and economic participation.
Egypt wanted the statement to stipulate that those organizations,
known as NGOs, be "legally registered" under each country´s laws.
U.S. officials said the requirement would undermine the purpose of
Nongovernmental organizations is a term used by the U.S. State
Department and others to describe both humanitarian aid
organizations such as the Red Cross and lesser-known groups that
promote social and political agendas.
Groups covered in the disputed language increasingly are active in
Egypt´s ruling party secured the most seats in the first stage of
parliamentary balloting last week that was seen as a test of
Mubarak´s pledges of electoral reform. The opposition said there
were widespread irregularities at the polls. (Copyright 2005
Associated Press. 11/12/05)
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