Middle East heavyweights Riyadh and Cairo, though on different wavelengths in terms of political reform, have also said in one voice the Western model of democracy does not necessarily fit a region largely driven by Islamic teachings.

 

The two capitals used a brief trip by Egyptian President Husni Mubarak to the Saudi capital to give the thumbs-down to the US's Greater Middle East Initiative without mentioning it by name.

  

The leaders of the two countries "affirmed that Arab states proceed on the path of development, modernisation and reform in keeping with their people's interests and values," said a joint statement issued on Tuesday night after Mubarak left the kingdom.

 

Reform  

 

Modernisation and reform must also fulfil their people's needs and be compatible with "their specificities and Arab identity," the statement said.

  

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said earlier this month Washington was considering a major international initiative aimed at encouraging democratic reforms in the greater Middle East and looking for ways to "institutionalise" such a project.

 

Arab states "do not accept that a particular pattern of reform be imposed on Arab and Islamic countries from outside"

Joint Egypt, Saudi statement

"The important thing to keep in mind here is, we're not looking for something to impose on the region, we're looking for things we can work with the region on," Powell said.

  

This was evidently not enough to reassure Riyadh and Cairo.

  

Arab states "do not accept that a particular pattern of reform be imposed on Arab and Islamic countries from outside," their joint statement said.

  

It went on to remind Washington of what several Arab officials have said in the past few days: namely, that stability in the Middle East will remain a mirage if the Israeli-Arab conflict, which goes back to more than half a century, and the festering Iraq problem, are not resolved.

  

Achieving Middle East stability "requires finding just solutions to the causes of the Arab and Islamic nation, chiefly the Palestinian question and the Iraq issue," the statement said.