Manama, Asharq Al-Awsat- British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has said that "the agenda of the Forum for the Future represents the only future for the peoples of the Middle East region," after the faltering of some "systems of government in the region in achieving real prosperity." Straw was speaking in a meeting with a small group of Arab journalists on the sidelines of the Forum for the Future.
While Straw said that this forum represents "the future for the region," British officials later said that "there was not enough time" to issue the final statement. The British officials did not disclose more information, in an attempt not to highlight the failure of the participating countries to agree on the final statement.
Answering a question by Asharq al-Awsat, Straw said that "the systems of government in the region have not succeeded, and real prosperity has not been achieved yet." He pointed to the "Arab development reports," saying that some of their results are "devastating." He added that the Arab leaders "are aware of these problems. If society is not prosperous culturally, it will not be stable politically."
He stressed a key point at the forum; that is, the spread of democracy and freedom in the region. He said, "Continuous prosperity and stability come through democracy. You cannot get a flourishing market for products and services without a market for comprehensive ideas." He noted that "a free market and ideas are what we call democracy."
The British foreign secretary admitted, "it is the duty of Western leaders to come to the region with these ideas while showing modesty. In the United Kingdom, it took us centuries to attain democracy, and cultural differences should be taken into consideration," in a reference to the fact that it is not possible to demand radical reforms at a faster pace than the region can digest. He added, "But this is the future."
On the reform process in the region, the British secretary said, "We should be careful and modest. The Arab peoples must decide how to achieve reforms, since they cannot be imposed from abroad."
He emphasized that in countries like the United States, black people attained the right to vote only 50 years ago, and that democracy is a continuous, gradual process. Although he admitted that it is difficult to impose reforms from abroad, he said he thinks that the reforms–which are presented at the forum by the G8, led by the UK this year and, hence, the forum is co-chaired by Bahrain–are the best for the region.
Straw did not see a direct relationship between the convening of the Forum for the Future and the bombings that occurred in Jordan on the eve of convening it. He, however, added that "all countries that are trying to move forward are the enemies of all evildoers, like Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who claimed responsibility for the operation (bombings)." He said "Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt, and Morocco are all seeking development and they are countries that were targeted by the terrorists." However, he added that initiatives, like those launched at the Forum for the Future, "will improve the situation in the Middle East," and therefore, will lead to "improving the Arab-Israeli conflict" and solving other outstanding political problems in the region.
On the Syrian situation, Straw said, "Following the intensive discussions in New York and the issuance of Resolution 1636, we need a period of calm," pointing to giving time for conducting international investigations. He added, "The Syrian Government said that it will cooperate. The whole Security Council is waiting for their (Syrian officials”) cooperation and it will judge them by their actions."
He said that international investigator Detlev Mehlis is the first one responsible for assessing the Syrian cooperation. He added that he shook hands with Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara during the sessions of the Forum for the Future. He said: "Although there is disagreement between us and Syria, this is not a reason for one to be impolite, and it is possible to speak to him (al-Shara) normally." He added that he saw Syrian Foreign Minister Farouq al-Shara at the ministerial dinner banquet, which was held the evening before last on the first day of the forum.
Straw spoke about his visit to Iraq. He said, "The violence in Iraq is escalating. Jordan has witnessed the violence of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. However, the Iraqis” longing for democracy is increasing day after day."
Straw noted that he met with "several Sunni leaders who boycotted the previous elections and who will participate in the upcoming elections." He added, "The Iraqis want what we take lightly sometimes in the West," in a reference to democracy.
Straw said: "The insurgency will continue for a while until the insurgents understand that it is not possible for them to succeed, but Iraq is not a failing country." He added, "Iraq is not like Afghanistan after the Soviet withdrawal. It is a rich country, with a developed society."