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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Reforms Wane in Arab World as U.S. Concentrates on Iraq

BEIRUT, Lebanon -- The daily carnage in Iraq is claiming another casualty -- Arab reformers who have increasingly become the target of governments that no longer feel pressured by the United States to change.

Ten intellectuals were recently thrown in jail in Syria. In Egypt, more than 600 people protesting in support of two reformist judges who called for the independence of the judiciary have been detained. And in Yemen, journalists are facing a rash of mysterious beatings, arrests and other forms of intimidation as the government cracks down on the media ahead of presidential elections.

Analysts say one reason is that Arab regimes believe U.S. President George W. Bush is too preoccupied by the violence in Iraq to pressure them to change. At the same time, the experts say, the U.S. zeal for reform has waned after it became clear democracy was bringing to power the same groups it had hoped the reform process would sideline, like the militant Palestinian Hamas which won the Palestinian parliamentary elections in January.

Many Arabs say the democracy call was premature in a region where democratic values are not entrenched.

"The people themselves do not believe in the democratic process, and that has a reflection on the governments since governments emanate from the people," said Abdul-Reda Assiri, a professor at Kuwait University.

Hazem Saghieh, a senior Lebanese columnist with the London-based Arabic newspaper Al-Hayat, said Arab culture was not receptive to modernity and that it had scores to settle with the West -- some as old as the Crusader Wars against Muslims and others relatively new, such as the 58-year Arab-Israeli crisis in which the West is perceived as biased in Israel's favor.

"That makes it difficult to apply the Eastern European model of democracy here," he said, referring to the spread of democracies that occurred after the fall of the Soviet Union. "The Eastern Europeans didn't have this cultural issue."