CAIRO: The United States remains committed to pressing for more democracy in the Middle East despite victories by Islamic fundamentalists in recent elections in Egypt and the Palestinian Authority, top U.S. State Department officials said Tuesday.
The Bush administration has said reform in the Mideast is a top policy concern and has focused on Egypt, a key ally in the region. But many in the region have speculatedWashington is backing off pressure on Cairo and other governments for change after the wins by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the Hamas movement in the Palestinian territories.
There could be no mistake there about the president s or the administration s commitment in pushing for democratic reform in the Arab World, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs J. Scott Carpenter told journalists Tuesday. When asked if this stance holds despite fundamentalist wins, he said yes.
The question is: Are we retreating on our commitment to advancing democracy and freedom in the region; the answer is absolutely not, said Elizabeth L. Dibble, also a deputy assistant secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, who along with Carpenter met with Egyptian officials in Cairo this week.
Hamas, which the United States considers a terrorist group, swept Palestinian legislative elections in January and its government is expected to be sworn in within weeks, raising deep concerns over the peace process with Israel.
In Egypt, the Brotherhood had a surprise showing in elections in November and January, winning 88 of parliament s 454 seats. The group is banned, but its candidates were elected as independents.
Carpenter said the United States won t deal directly with the Brotherhood since it is banned under Egyptian law, but Brotherhood members won t be barred from meetings between U.S. officials and parliament members.
He repeated the stance outlined by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that the government should find some accommodation for fundamentalist movements to play a democratic role. There is recognition that there are a number obviously of folks who have been elected to Parliament, and they are there. This is an issue for Egyptian society to deal with it, it’s not something for us necessarily to involve ourselves with, he said.
President Hosni Mubarak met with Rice last month in Cairo, and Mubarak was quoted afterward by the state daily Al-Gomhouria as saying he had won Rice over to his government s views on democracy in the Arab world.
She didn t bring up difficult issues or ask to change anything or to intervene in political reform, as some people say, Mubarak was quoted as saying. She was convinced by the way that political reform and the implementation of democracy is being done in Egypt.
U.S. officials sharply criticized Egypt over widespread violence that marred the parliament elections, most of it caused by government supporters and police trying to keep opposition voters away from the polls.
The U.S. continues to discuss with Egypt the need to move forward on political as well as economic and social reforms. There is no let off on that. We continue to express our desire to see positive momentum, Carpenter added. AP