The International Institute for Inter-Religious, Multiethnic and Middle-East Studies (IFIMES) in Ljubljana constantly analyses events in the Middle East region. By promoting the idea of "Partnership for the Middle East" we try to contribute to the stabilisation in the region. The most interesting sections of the analysis are given below.
In its previous analyses, the IFIMES International Institute called upon the USA to start applying a different policy towards the Middle East, for not only the USA and its interests but also the whole democratic system in the world has been endangered since 11 September 2001. As a method of a different policy we have proposed the USA to establish an organisation modelled on the NATO Partnership for Peace which would be called "Partnership for the Middle East".
On 12 December 2002, the democratic world received positively the initiative of the American state secretary, Colin Powell, in the Washington Heritage Centre, where he announced the establishment of "Partnership Initiative between the USA and the Middle East". However, the European allies and the political nomenklatura in the Middle East responded with scepticism to this initiative while the Arab media answered by accusing the USA of interfering in the internal affairs of those countries.
In contrast to the initiatives of the former century, this one aims at integrating whole nations in the reforms of political systems, helping in education, fighting against illiteracy, implementing women's rights, establishing civil society organisations and supporting the public and private sector in the region in order to reform the economy.
The main initiators of the idea of the USA and the Middle East partnership are Dick Channey, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, William Kristol, Gary Schmitt, Robert Kagan and Bruce Jackson, all coming from the line of American Neoconservatives who formulated their attitude at the beginning of 1970s, based on two ideas: rejecting the isolationism of the Democrats and rejecting the realism of the Republicans. On those two bases they regard the USA as the superior-force which is spreading the ideas of democracy and protection of human rights in the world. They published their views in the project "New American Century" (1997) and various magazines such as The Weekly Standard, where they expressed their demands for a more intensive role of America in the Middle East, the abolition of undemocratic regimes and the drawing of a new political map.
The IFIMES Institute is of the opinion that the idea of the New American Century should be integrated in Powell's plan and offered to the people in the Middle East through independent media and institutions to help in the formation of the civil society bodies. In the beginning it would have the form of joint ventures with similar institutions in Europe, especially in the Balkans, where the people can, after 50 years of communism and a decade of war, freely vote their representatives in free and democratic elections and create a progress in the political and economic reforms. The Balkan nations, among which there are also ten million Muslims, are positive towards American interventions in the region and participation in the peace process. However, the Balkan reality is not accessible to the millions of people of the Middle East because the media, obviously intentionally, still create the image which prevents the presentation of positive effects of the West and of American intervention in the Balkans.
IFIMES believes that, initially, contacts should be established in the Middle East with the financial and religious leaders of such organisations, professors and students in order to explain the plan of changes and stress that the changes would not endanger their status and interests – financial, religious, tribal – nor interfere in their tradition. They could thus become the generators of new changes, since they know the West well due to many years of various forms of co-operation through investments, education etc. According to IFIMES, those people are the hostages in their states of the cold war ideologies (Baath's socialism and Naser's Pan-Arabism, radical Wahhabism, Shiitic export of revolution). All these groupings should be invited to participate in seminars and symposiums of independent institutions of the civil society in Europe (independent institutes and NGOs) in order to show and present them the achievements of democratic standards (elections, free media, human rights, social and health security). Moreover, the relevant structures from Israel should be invited to take part in this kind of co-operation where they could get to know each other, exchange experience and build the bridges. In this way, we could promote ideas which would unite those nations instead of distancing them from each other in order to create a better life for all the inhabitants of the region. Therefore, Israel should also be included in the "Partnership for the Middle East" initiative since it is by national structure a multiethnic state with democratic institutions where, for example, the Arab parties take part in the elections and have their representatives in the Israeli Knesset.
The "Partnership for the Middle East" initiative comprises three main goals:
1. reform of education,
2. reform of the economy and
3. reform of the political systems.
Religious teaching should be liberated from the burdens of historical events which were marked by the crusade (the Christian and Islamic war and the wars between Jews and Arabs, as well as Christians and Jews in Europe in the 15th and 20th century). These and similar ideologies endanger the stability in the region. Reforms of educational system should, according to IFIMES, include the erasing of the constitutional chapter which states that Islam is the state religion in most countries of the Middle East. Religious teaching should be separated from the curriculum, especially in Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Iraq, since it pours oil on the flames in these multi-religious countries. Religion should be taught in specialised schools and theological universities and it should be based on scientific and historical research work.
Economic reforms are related to political reforms since tens of millions of people in the Middle East are unemployed. In those countries there are no efficient state institutions while social and health security does not even exist. Those people have no hope. The politicians, professors and journalists accuse the West of causing this situation. That is why they are becoming volunteer recruits in certain organisations (religious, humanitarian and other) which promote the fight against the West and its interests as their main ideology.
According to Richard Hass, Director of Policy Planning in the State Department, the USA will not impose the outmoded freezing formula of political reform but rather work individually with each state in order to gradually form their election systems. Hass admitted that the USA made a mistake by not giving the priority to the democratic processes in the region. During his visits in Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and other states, Director Hass was convinced through communication with ordinary people that they feel disappointed with the failure of the USA in promoting democracy in the region and with American support of totalitarian regimes.
The IFIMES Institute believes that the 21st century will be more favourable to the nations in the region since the "Partnership for the Middle East" initiative will help the people of the Middle East to gain their long awaited freedom and democracy and to integrate in the modern world.