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Thursday, 5 December, 2002, 18:45 GMT
US to push democracy for Muslims
Arab Foreign ministers meeting in Cairo
Haass found positive developments in several countries

The United States has set out its plans to intensify its promotion of democracy throughout the Muslim world.

Richard Haass, a senior State Department representative, told the Council on Foreign Relations there was a lack of democracy in much of the Muslim world, and in the Arab world in particular.

The desire to promote an idealised vision of the world has always been part of US foreign policy, often sitting uneasily alongside the demands of power politics.

These same tensions exist within the Bush administration.


Only one out of four countries with Muslim majorities have democratically elected governments

Richard Haass
Indeed, when the US deputy defence secretary was recently speaking in London, it was difficult to determine whether the Americans were threatening to topple Saddam Hussein because of his weapons of mass destruction or because of Washington's wider desire to bring democracy to the Iraqi people.

It is easy to dismiss such lofty statements about democracy as mere rhetoric.

But as Richard Haass' speech demonstrates this is an important theme underlying the Bush administration's approach to foreign affairs.

And whatever its practicalities, it deserves to be analysed seriously.

Mr Haass did not pull his punches.

"Only one out of four countries with Muslim majorities have democratically-elected governments," he said.

Balance sheet

Mr Haass argued that the gap between the Muslim countries and the rest of the world - what he termed "the democratic deficit" - was growing.

Muslims, he said, could not blame the US for their lack of democracy. But there was also self-criticism.

An oil rig
The steady flow of oil has often been a US priority

Mr Haass said the US had avoided scrutinizing the internal workings of countries because of a series of factors, including: ensuring a steady flow of oil, containing Soviet expansionism and issues related to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Few could argue with his premise that democracy, freedom and prosperity go hand in hand.

Mr Haass sought to draw up a democratic balance sheet of the Muslim world that was by no means negative.

He found positive developments in many places: Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait, Malaysia and Indonesia, to name but a handful.

Marketing problem

Putting the promotion of democracy higher on the agenda is all very well.

But the day-to-day diplomatic tools for doing so are much harder to identify.

And there are some critics who say that the war on terrorism is already leading to closer ties between the US and several countries whose democratic credentials are questionable at best.

Washington also has a huge job in marketing its democratic vision.

A new survey by the Pew Research Centre for the People and the Press - a respected US opinion pollster and think tank - suggests the US stance on Iraq has tarnished America's image in many countries.

Mr Haass' wider audience may need some convincing.

See also:

31 Dec 01 | Review of 2001
11 Oct 02 | Americas
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