ISTANBUL, Turkey - A conference on democracy in the Islamic world opened Tuesday with warnings from Turkey and Jordan that political reforms must not be imposed by outside powers, like the United States.
Representatives from the two key U.S. Middle Eastern allies said political and social reforms were needed in the Islamic world.
But "a one-blueprint-for-all action plan is unrealistic," said Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher at the opening of The Congress of Democrats from the Islamic World.
The congress comes as the United States pushes for reforms in the Middle East. Also under debate is the role of religion in political life in Islamic nations and concerns about the prospects for democracy in countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Marwan Muasher talks during Congress of Democrats from the Islamic World in Istanbul, Turkey, Tuesday, April 13, 2004. The Congress of Democrats from the Islamic World comes amid a U.S. push for reforms in the Middle East, as well as debate over the role of religion in political life in Islamic countries and concerns about the prospects for democracy in countries including Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Osman Orsal)
One American plan President Bush's Greater Middle East Initiative is intended to encourage countries in the region to promote democracy and human rights and to upgrade schools.
The plan has not been officially released. But Tuesday it was already sparking complaints that America was once again interfering in the region and seeking to import Western ideas.
Muasher criticized the plan, dismissing the concept of a "Greater Middle East" "countries are lumped together for sometimes no other reason other than their common religion is Islam," he said.
Middle Eastern countries need to find their own ways to promote greater freedoms, women's rights, and education reform, Muasher said.
Otherwise, "opponents of political and social reform will conveniently label reform efforts as a mere implementation of a Western agenda," he said. "We, together as Muslims, have to come out with a collective blueprint for reform and democratic transformation acquiescent to our religious and cultural values."
Cemil Cicek, Turkey's justice minister, criticized those who link terrorism with Islam and said conflicts, like the one Iraq, should be quickly ended so as not to give "reasons for terrorism."
"Blood and tears, the smell of gunpowder and sound of bullets drown out the sound of democracy," he told the dozens of delegates from countries as far afield as Sierra Leone and Indonesia.
The meeting is sponsored by the U.N. Development Program and the Washington-based National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, which is headed by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who is attending.
"It was a conscious choice to hold this meeting in Turkey," said Abdel Karim al-Iryani, a former prime minister of Yemen, who is attending the congress. "The (Turkish) Islamic movement embraced the secular state. This new experience in Turkey is a model for all Muslim countries."
But not everyone is convinced. Critics point out that the Justice and Development Party was founded by former members of a banned pro-Islamic party. They also say the United States enjoyed warmer ties with previous governments that stuck to hardline secularism.
Since winning elections in 2002, the Justice party has broadened freedom of expression, trimmed the military's influence in politics, and worked to improve Turkey's much criticized human rights record. The party says it does not have an Islamic agenda and its main goal is to further Turkey's aim of European Union membership.
At the same time, the Justice party has portrayed itself as an inspiration for the other Muslim countries.
© Copyright 2004 Associated Press