- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 8, 2004

Uncertain initiative

A U.S. plan to promote democracy in the Middle East and North Africa is doomed unless the Bush administration changes its policies in the region, according to an assessment by the International Crisis Group.

The United States is expected to present the broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative at this week’s summit of the world’s eight economic powers in Sea Island, Ga. President Bush announced last year that his administration would take a new approach that would no longer accommodate friendly but authoritarian Arab regimes.

However, in a new report, the Brussels-based conflict-resolution advocacy group says Mr. Bush is failing to engage Islamist movements that “are some of the more dynamic forces in the region.” The group urges the administration to “test the increasing professions of political Islam … that it is committed to the ground rules of democracy.”

The ICG also fears that the few democratic reformers could be weakened by a perceived association with the United States.

“They are uncertain whether the new emphasis from Washington will give a bad name to their own efforts,” the group states.

The ICG doubts whether the administration is committed to the centerpiece of its own plan.

“Despite the rhetoric,” the report says, “there are few indications [the administration] is prepared to put established relations with authoritarian but cooperative Middle East states at risk.”

Brush with Reagan

The ambassador of the African nation Djibouti met President Reagan for only a few minutes on a spring morning 16 years ago, but the memories of that day are still fresh.

“He was in his final year; for me, it was just the beginning. I was learning the complex nature of diplomacy in Washington,” said Ambassador Roble Olhaye.

The ambassador is now the second-longest-serving foreign envoy in Washington and the dean of the African diplomatic corps.

On March 22, 1988, Mr. Olhaye — accompanied by his sons, Omar, then 19, and Ahmed, two years younger — entered the White House to present his diplomatic credentials to Mr. Reagan.

Their meeting lasted less than five minutes, but it left a lifetime impression.

“He was a very warm man, very gracious. He listened to what I said. I brought greetings from my president,” Mr. Olhaye said.

Mr. Reagan posed for pictures with the new ambassador and his sons.

“We cherish the photos,” Mr. Olhaye said.

The ambassador expressed his sadness over Mr. Reagan’s death but had been expecting it for some years.

“Death is always sudden,” he said. “Death is always tragic.”

Fatwa against terror

Religious leaders in Saudi Arabia joined the fight against terrorism with an official “fatwa,” condemning such attacks as “forbidden and sinful,” said Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

“It is our own religious establishment that is the authority most qualified to debunk and disprove al Qaeda’s false claims,” he said, referring to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network blamed for repeated attacks in the kingdom.

Prince Bandar said the Permanent Committee of Religious Research and Ifta (religious edict) issued the fatwa to denounce terrorism and remind Saudis of their duty to help the authorities track down the perpetrators.

The committee is headed by Grand Mufti Abdul-Aziz al-Sheik, who is also chairman of the Saudi Council of Senior Religious Scholars.

The Saudi Embassy said the fatwa “ruled that such acts are religiously forbidden and considered severe forms of injustice.”

“The fatwa stated that these acts disrupt the security of the country, shed innocent blood, terrorize peaceful people and destroy property,” the embassy said.

Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail jmorrison@washingtontimes.com.

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