Official: Many Arabs unready for democracy
JERUSALEM — Israel’s vice premier declared Monday that many Arab countries are not ready for democracy - a comment sure to rankle many in the Middle East, where thousands have died and thousands more have risked their lives in uprisings against brutal dictators.
Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Israel learned a bitter lesson about democracy in the Middle East when Islamist Hamas militants came to power in free elections in Palestinian territories in 2006.
The following year, the group violently overran the Gaza Strip, ousting forces loyal to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Democratic elections, Mr. Ya’alon said, do not necessarily make for democratic practices.
“We are not sure, to say the least, what we witness now is real democratization,” he told a group of foreign journalists. “Hamas exploited the democratic rules of the game … to impose a nondemocratic regime.
“We believe that you can’t reach democracy by elections,” he added. “We believe in a long process. It should start by education.”
Tunisia - which does not border Israel - might be ripe for democracy, he said. But Palestinians, he said, are not.
Former prime minister to run for president
PARIS — Dominique de Villepin, the former prime minister who gained international renown for speaking out against the war in Iraq, shook up France’s presidential campaign Monday by announcing he will run as an independent.
The announcement on French television is likely to complicate life for both the Socialist candidate, Francois Hollande, and President Nicolas Sarkozy, who runs the conservative Union for a Popular Movement party that Mr. Villepin served under.
By positioning himself as a centrist, Mr. Villepin could siphon votes from both candidates, but the move is being seen primarily as a finger in the eye of Mr. Sarkozy. The two men are bitter rivals, despite inhabiting the same conservative side of the political spectrum.
Lawmakers choose rights activist as first president
TUNIS — Tunisia’s new assembly Monday chose a veteran human rights activist as the first democratically elected president of the country that sparked the Arab Spring.
Moncef Marzouki of the Congress for the Republic Party won 153 out of 217 votes in the legislative assembly. He ran unopposed after the opposition declined to put forward a candidate and nine others failed to meet the criteria.
Tunisians overthrew their long-ruling dictator in January and elected an assembly in October to write the new constitution and form an interim government.
Mr. Marzouki is expected to appoint a prime minister from the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, which was once brutally repressed but now holds the most seats in the assembly.
Jobless man throws shoes at president
TEHRAN — Laid-off workers complaining about unpaid wages disrupted a speech by Iran’s president Monday by shouting and throwing objects, including a pair of shoes, news websites and a news agency reported.
One dispatch said a man threw a pair of shoes at President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Throwing shoes at someone is considered a gesture of disdain in the Muslim world.
The disruption was first reported by a little-known website, GhasedNews.ir. That report was picked up by the mainstream Mehr news agency and the website of the Tehran Times newspaper.
GhasedNews.ir said Ahmadinejad supporters attacked the man who threw the shoes. He had to be rescued by security personnel.
Other websites, including the hard-line outlet KhabarOnline.ir, said only unspecified “objects” were thrown by disgruntled former textile workers in the northern city of Sari. They demanded a year of unpaid back pay.
Pope confirms trip to Cuba, Mexico before Easter
Pope Benedict XVI plans to travel to Cuba and Mexico before Easter next year, saying he hopes his visit will strengthen the faith and encourage Catholics there to seek justice and hope.
Benedict confirmed his travel plans Monday during a Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica honoring Mexico’s patron saint, the Virgin of Guadalupe.
Pope John Paul II made historic trips to Cuba and Mexico. He became the first pope to visit Mexico when he landed in 1979 on his first foreign trip and he made a groundbreaking tour of communist Cuba in 1998.
• From wire dispatches and staff reports