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4/12/04 -  ALEXANDRIA DECLARATION - 2004-04-06

There is a growing demand for change in the Middle East. This was made clear at a recent “Arab Reform Issues” conference in Alexandria, Egypt. The meeting of civic group leaders from Arab countries produced a communique saying that, “Reform is necessary and urgently needed.” That means, says the “Alexandria Declaration,” that every Arab country should establish an “elected legislative body, an independent judiciary, and constitutional oversight, in addition to political parties with their different ideologies.”

The Alexandria Declaration also calls for “the freedom of all forms of expression, especially the freedom of the press. . .and the support of human rights in accordance with international charters, especially the rights of women, children, and minorities.”

Ismail Siraj El-Din is director of the Alexandria Library, where the conference was held. As he told the Internet news service, IslamOnline, “our Arab world is in dire need to move forward towards comprehensive reform so as not to remain living in isolation from the world around us.”

In some Arab countries, government leaders have begun to take steps toward reform. In other countries, little has been done. But the interest in reform among Arabs is clear, says Richard Boucher, U.S. State Department spokesman:

“There seems to be. . .genuine effort in the region to look for areas of reform, to look for areas where they can modernize their economies and their societies and political systems. In many cases, this is homegrown. It comes from the region, and our intention is to support homegrown reform and modernization.”

Such support is welcomed by Arab reformers, says Egyptian Osama Ghazali Harb, one of the drafters of the Alexandria Declaration. Indeed, he says, support by the U.S. and other democracies for the ideas in the Alexandria Declaration “will strengthen and promote this trend for reform.”