Sunday, February 22, 2004

The French-Saudi Connection

Bush is expected to make a greater push for reform in the Middle East during the G8 Summit in June, calling for an American-European alliance to endorse greater democratic and human rights principles in the Middle East. The initiative is expected to build upon Bush's words at Whitehall Palace back in November, when he said to a British audience: "We must shake off decades of failed policy in the Middle East. Your nation and mine, in the past, have been willing to make a bargain, to tolerate oppression for the sake of stability. Longstanding ties often led us to overlook the faults of local elites. Yet this bargain did not bring stability or make us safe. It merely bought time, while problems festered and ideologies of violence took hold."

Well, Chirac is already busy undermining any such initiative. On Saturday morning, the French president met with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al-Faisal in a show of French-Saudi solidarity. The two men expressed "the shared opinion that any action designed to encourage modernization and reform in the Arab and Muslim word must be accompanied with a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian problem." What do the thousands of political prisoners in Egyptian prisons have to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Why should Syria be able to claim that it will not lift its 40+ year state of emergency that has crushed intellectual discourse in that country until the status of Gaza and the West Bank is determined? By all means, make peace between Israelis and Palestinians a priority. However don't make all reform in the Middle East contingent upon it. Chirac is merely providing an excuse for totalitarian governments. Moreover, the French government is encouraging perverse incentives. The longer the House of Saud can focus Western attention on the West Bank, the more it can ride roughshod over basic human rights and, for example, continue to treat Saudi Shi'ites as second-class citizens in their own country.

It's clear that Chirac's government cannot be relied upon to support any initiative of reform in the Middle East. It would rather support an oppressive status quo and use the current Middle East regimes as allies to fight the American menace.

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