Greater Middle East, US Initiative

American initiative aimed at encouraging democracy in the region (1) and promoting economic and social reform. This was presented on the occasion of the World Economic Forum in Davos  in January 2004. Washington will officially launch this initiative during the G-8 summit at Sea Island (Georgia-U.S.) in June 2004.

The plan is based on the assertion that stopping the growth in “the region’s pool of politically and economically disenfranchised individuals,” will slow the trend towards rising “extremism, terrorism, international crime and illegal migration” in region. It contains topics such as open markets, free elections, press liberty and support for human rights organisations.

The initiative would be inspired on the 1975 Helsinki accords, signed by 35 nations (US, the former Soviet Union and most European states). The pact was designed to recognize disputed post-World War II borders and establish a mechanism for settling other disagreements. Human rights and fundamental freedoms became key parts of the treaty, and the West promoted and protected dissident groups in the Soviet bloc and urged greater freedoms for its residents.

Notably, the initiative proposes the following actions: establishment of business and trade zones; assistance to middle Eastern countries in conducing and monitoring elections; establishment of funding centres that would give legal advice to women; the strengthening of ties to non-governmental  groups which promote democracy; the initiation of education programs, notably for women.

The US initiative caused some concern amongst Arab nations, and leaders insisted that change in the region must come from within, not imposed from outside. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Saudi Arabian King Fahd and Crown Prince Abdullah stated the following “Arab states proceed on the path of development, modernisation and reform in keeping with their people’s interests and values”. Some countries have pooled their efforts to come up with an alternative to the USA’s strategy.

European reactions focus more on the fact that European Union has its own instruments to encourage democratic institutions in the Middle East, namely the Barcelona Process and the newly adopted New Neighbourhood Policy. It is not clear if both approaches are going to weaken each other or if there is a possibility to merge and re-enforce both plans.

(1) The Greater Middle East region includes the 22 nations of the Arab League, Turkey, Israel, Pakistan and Afghanistan.