Arabs should not exclude Islamist parties – Albright

Arabs should not exclude Islamist parties – Albright

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 marginalise violent extremists is to make room for as broad a range of non-violent perspectives as possible.”

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 elections.

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 elections.

“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.