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2/17/04 - SUPPORTING MIDEAST FREEDOM - 2004-02-17

In the Middle East, as elsewhere, the U.S. is seeking to promote democracy and free-market reform. But this does not mean, says Secretary of State Colin Powell, that the U.S. is “looking for something to impose” on Arab or Muslim countries:

“We’re looking for things we can work with the region on. It’s an effort to engage the region.”

Through its Middle East Partnership Initiative, the U.S. is supporting political, economic, and social reform efforts. President George W. Bush says the U.S. is “taking the side of reformers”:

“We’re providing loans and business advice to encourage a culture of entrepreneurship in the Middle East. We’ve established business internships for women, to teach them the skills of enterprise, and to help them achieve social and economic equality. We’re supporting the work of judicial reformers who demand independent courts and the rule of law.”

In Arab countries, women’s rights are often severely restricted. But as more women gain the right to participate in public life, they will need to know such things as how to speak to large audiences, deal with the media, and organize political campaigns. These skills are being taught at a seminar in Doha, Qatar, by politically active women from Morocco, Jordan, and Lebanon, as well as the U.S. and Canada.

In Amman, Jordan, a program is being held on “Women and the Law.” Women in many Arab countries lack the same rights as men in regard to family relationships, property ownership, inheritance, and travel. The conference is designed to give participants from more than a dozen Arab countries a chance to discuss laws and practices that deny women legal equality and what can be done to change them.

As Moroccan women’s activist Amina Lemrini put it, “We will be able to measure the advances. . .toward democracy, the state of law, and modernity by looking at how much is put into practice in terms of meaningful benefits for women.”