November 28, 2005

Arabs should not exclude Islamist parties: Albright

DUBAI (Reuters) - The United States should not back "sham"
reforms in the Arab world which continue to isolate powerful
Islamist opposition, former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine
Albright said on Monday.

"It would be a mistake to exclude Islamist parties on the
assumption they are inherently undemocratic or prone to
violence," she said in a statement released shortly before her
appearance at a conference in the United Arab Emirates.

"The best way to marginalize violent extremists is to make
room for as broad a range of non-violent perspectives as

Her comments appeared to be directed at Arab countries
including Egypt, where the banned Muslim Brotherhood has made
stunning gains by winning 76 seats in ongoing parliamentary

The Bush administration has made little comment on violence
that marred the polling. Police have arrested nearly 200 Muslim
Brotherhood activists in a crackdown on the group.

Washington backs Egypt's refusal to license the Brotherhood
-- a vocal critic of U.S. policy in Iraq and the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- over its religious platform.

Albright, who played a key role in Arab-Israeli diplomacy
in the 1990s, attacked a recent constitutional reform which
allowed for Egypt's first ever multi-party presidential

"The system he (President Hosni Mubarak) is recommending
would make it virtually impossible for truly independent
parties to participate. Sham democracy should be exposed for
what it truly is," Albright said.

Mubarak, whose ruling National Democratic Party has the
majority in parliament, has been in power for over two decades.

The constitutional amendment approved by referendum in May
set tough conditions for rival presidential candidates. Under
the old system, parliament chose Mubarak as sole candidate and
Egyptians then voted for or against in a referendum.