Arab reform and public diplomacy
486. We have discussed elsewhere the need to
resolve regional conflicts such as those between Israel and the
Palestinians and between Pakistan and India.
In our last Report we noted the continued relevance of our conclusion
in July 2003 that "resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict continues to be of central importance to the long term
stabilisation of the Middle East region."
We have also dealt with the need to tackle the sources of extremism
in Pakistan and to ensure continued international commitment to
Afghanistan to prevent the country from once again becoming a
haven for extremists.
487. Another area of concern is the lack of democracy
and the general under-performance in the Arab and Islamic world.
While in New York, we discussed this issue with the United National
Development Programme, which has produced a serious of reports
on Arab Human Development. The 2002 Arab Human Development Report
noted the region's low incomes, stagnant growth and fast growing
populations. It concluded that the barrier to better performance
in the Arab world is not a lack of resources but the absence of
freedom, knowledge and 'womanpower'. Absolute monarchies remain
a feature of the Arab world, while elections are often flawed
and the media and civil society operate under heavy constraints.
488. M J Gohel told us:
We have to stop the recruitment of new generations
Some 2 billion Muslims are ruled in 60 countries,
not a single one of which is truly democratic, except maybe Malaysia
and Turkey. The trouble is the young men only have a choice between
a despotic regime or the clerics in the mosque. If they are not
benefiting from the despotic regime, they go to the clerics, and
the clerics say Jihad is the way to prosperity and paradise.
We also heard from witnesses about the lack of serious
reform in Saudi Arabia and how this has fed into the deteriorating
situation in that country.
However, while the issue is clearly important to the West, Western
efforts to support democratisation are problematic.
489. In an address to the National Endowment
for Democracy in November 2003, President Bush outlined the US
interest in reform in the Middle East. 
"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 of the Middle Eastcountries
of great strategic importance democracy has not yet taken
root." He went on to outline the opportunities that he believes
are presented by the war in Iraq. "Iraqi democracy will succeed
and that success will send forth the news, from Damascus
to Teheranthat freedom can be the future of every nation.
The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East
will be a watershed event in the global democratic revolution."
The President went on to discuss "a new policy, a forward
strategy of freedom in the Middle East."
490. In February 2004, the Arabic newspaper al-Hayat
leaked details of the US administration's Greater Middle East
Initiative, which was designed as a 'visionary complement' to
the war against terrorism. Although the plan was far from innovative,
incorporating the promotion of democracy and good governance,
building a knowledge society and expanding economic opportunities,
it prompted concern in both the Middle East and Europe about US
efforts to impose a plan on the region. Egypt and Saudi Arabia
took the lead in rejecting the initiative. At a press conference,
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told journalists that efforts
to impose models of reform from abroad are "unacceptable".
This sentiment was echoed across the Arab world. In response,
a number of regional states, including Egypt, Jordan and Tunisia
proposed their own initiatives to be adopted at Arab League Summit
planned for the end of March in Tunis. Although this summit was
cancelled under various pressures, a subsequent summit held in
Tunis in May produced a pledge to embrace reform and fight terrorism.
However, not only was the plan vague, but no mechanism has been
set up to monitor progress.
Thus, there remains well founded scepticism over the commitment
of many Arab countries to pursue genuine reform.
491. The formal launch of the US proposal for
democratic and economic reform at the G8 summit in June 2004 did
little to reassure either Arab leaders or populations, despite
efforts to emphasise the importance of home-grown reform.
A number of key Arab states stayed away from the summit, reluctant
to be seen to endorse US-sponsored reform plans.
492. The United Kingdom has taken a more understated
approach to reform in the Middle East. On 1 March, the Foreign
Secretary made a speech on 'Partnerships for reform in the Arab
World'. While emphasising the United Kingdom's interest in successful
reform in the Arab World, Mr Straw stressed that reform must be
It is the people of the Arab world who are best
placed to understand the challenges they face, and to decide how
best to deal with them. The ideas must come from our Arab friends.
We in Europe or the West cannot and must not dictate to them;
but we can, and will, work with them to support and nurture reform.
He went on to outline some of the steps that the
United Kingdom can take to support reform:
We can offer our expertise in adapting to a changing
world, for example on educational standards, legal reform, the
participation of women, market regulation or youth policy
whatever we do in Britain, we need international partnerships
to achieve our aims. For Britain, working through the EU will
be crucial. The European Security Strategy endorsed last December
makes the Middle East a priorityand rightly so. The EU
is already strongly engaged. The so-called 'MEDA' programme of
aid totals around 700 million per year; the Barcelona Process
and our partnership with the GCC give us frameworks for closer
partnership; and bilateral Association Agreements link us even
more closely to individual countries in the region. We now need
to use these instruments more coherently and effectively to promote
our shared goalsfor example by focusing MEDA funds on our
strategic objectives, and deepening the relationship with the
Gulf states through the EU-GCC dialogue. The new European Neighbourhood
Policy should also give us new opportunities to build partnerships
for reform in the region. We need to work first of all with those
countries which have shown a clear wish to reform; and we need
to make sure the partnerships include conditions by which both
sides are prepared to abide.
493. On 5 May, the Foreign Office wrote to the
Committee, outlining steps it is taking to help bring about reform
in the Arab world:
The FCO last year established a new team in London
and in the region dedicated to furthering reform in the Arab world.
It also established a £1.5 million Engaging the Islamic World
programme to support this policy by assisting indigenous-led change
and modernisation in the areas of governance, rule of law and
issues surrounding women. The programme fund was increased to
£3 million this financial year and extended to Islamic countries
beyond the Arab world. The British Government is also using its
influence in multilateral organisations to support regional reform.
We expect agreement at the G8 Summit in Sea Island to a menu of
activity that assists reform in the region. We are contributing
to the development of an EU Strategic Partnership for the Mediterranean
and the Middle East, to be considered at the June European Council.
This international engagement supports recent regional demands
for change and modernisation, such as the Sana'a and Alexandria
inter-governmental and nongovernmental declarations earlier this
494. We also heard from the BBC World Service
and British Council about their work in the Middle East and their
enhanced focus on the broader Islamic world following the publication
of the FCO's White Paper 'UK International Priorities' in December
2003. The White
Paper also prioritised the promotion of democracy, good governance
and human rights.
495. As well as efforts to improve radio and
online services, there was a proposal for a BBC Arabic television
service, but this did not receive funding in the Treasury's recent
For its part, the British Council told us that it:
played a central part in formulating the Public
Diplomacy Strategy for the Middle East, which allocates a key
role to the British Council in encouraging mutual understanding
and in engaging with reform in education and civil society on
the lines recommended by the UNDP's First and Second Arab Human
We heard that the British Council is in discussion
with a number of education ministries across the Middle East about
how to engage and share expertise from within the United Kingdom.
496. There are clear dangers associated with
being seen to support reform projects in the Arab world. Given
the high level of anti-US sentiment in the region and the links
made by the US administration between the war in Iraq and the
spread of democratic reform, close association with such projects
could be detrimental to more than just the prospects of reform.
In his speech on 1 March, the Foreign Secretary alluded to this
problem. "We in Europe should make clear that we share America's
recognition of the need for reform, but that we need to work closely
together and with the Arab world to ensure we get our approach
497. There is a clear need for reform throughout
the Arab world. However, we conclude that it is important not
to seek to impose reform on the region but to encourage and support
domestic initiatives where appropriate. We agree with the Foreign
Secretary that Arab reform must be home-grown and we commend the
work of the Foreign Office in support of regional and national
reform initiatives. We also welcome the work of the BBC World
Service and British Council in the region. We recommend that in
its response to this Report the Government provide a fully up-dated
report on the work it is doing in this area.