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 agosto 2020 


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>> The Economist


Despite the misery of Israel-Palestine and the bloody uncertainty in Iraq, there are hopeful signs across the wider region “There is no longer any place for dictatorship,” said the president. “Democracy is the choice of the modern age for all peoples.” Was this George Bush, preaching reform to Arab leaders? No, it was one of those leaders themselves, Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh, addressing a recent human-right conference. Apart from blasts at Israel and demands for a swift American exit from Iraq, Mr Saleh’s speech might have been scripted in Washington. In the wake of the Iraq war, many Arabs still think of America as a bully. Fully 94% of 1,600 callers-in to a recent debate shown on the al-Jazeera satellite channel agreed with the proposition that America is engaged in a “crusade” against Islam. Yet Mr Saleh is not alone among Arab leaders in finding it politic to endorse, in words at least, the agenda for reform that the superpower has skatched for the region. The changes do not mean that dictators are falling like dominoes, as some of the cheerleaders for America’s invasion of Iraq were prophesying last year. But nor has the region seen the maythem predicted by many of the war’s opponents. Some of the changes have nothing to do with the war: in many countries, moves to widen political participation, liberalise commerce and contain conflicts have been under way for some time. The so-called “Arab system”, institutionalised in the Arab League whose yearning for a place on the world stage occasionally grated with America, has been crumbling since the shock of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. and many Arab regimes have long been zealous in pursuit of one big American objective, to exterminate terrorism (except, of course, when it is Palestinian). But the pace of change has accelerated in recent months, with some noted gains for American policy. With much American cajoling, for example, the Sudanese government and southern rebels look close to agreeing to end that country’s long civil war, so helping to calm the troubled Horn of Africa for the first time in a generation. Libya and Iraq have both opted to expose their nuclear programmes to outside monitoring, and so helped to reduce the potential for a regional arms race. And Iran, while shying from any formal embrace with America, is quietly courting America’s close friends in the region, such as Kuwait, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. In North Africa, Algeria remains shaky and violent, the three-decade-old Western Sahara conflict continues to fester, and both Tunisia and Egypt still fake democracy while stifling dissent. Yet all the countries in the region, including now Libya, openly back such American aims as reducing trade barriers, while quietly offering help against al-Qaeda to the Pentagon and CIA. Egypt’s gutter press hectors as loudly as in the days when it was bankrolled by Mr. Hussein, but in recent months the more dominant state-owned media have muted their routine bashing of America. Long-time American protectorates, such as Jordan and the smaller Gulf monarchies have moved more boldly to please their patron. None is near to becoming a full-fledged democracy, but all have embarked on more liberal paths. After a decade of virtual legislative standstill, for example, Kuwait’s government is promoting educational reform, a redrawing of electoral districts to make voting fairer, and a removal of barriers to foreign investment. Even Saudi Arabia is in the throes of change. Despite the fract that America’s imprimatur raises hackles among conservatives, the kind of policies that American diplomats have urged for years are now firmly on the agenda. These include a widening of the franchise through promised local elections, the opening of the upstream oil sector to foreign firms, purging the state curriculum of incitement against non-Muslims, and recognising the Shia minority’s rights. The reforms have been applied hesitantly, unevenly and inefficiently, but for the first time, on the defensive. In one area, al least, the Saudi government is acting firmly, to America’s pleasure, with an all-out assault on Islamic militants.

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