Mubarak will be in Egypt's Mediterranean port of Alexandria on Friday to open the two-day meeting of academics, business leaders and others under the sponsorship of both governmental and non-governmental organizations, officials said on Tuesday 

An Egyptian critic said the conference is part of government efforts to deflect US pressure for political and economic reform. 

Mubarak is expected to reiterate his view that a speedy reform package will do more harm than good for Arab countries, a point he hammered repeatedly during his recent visits to Italy and France. 

Greater Middle East Initiative

He is to meet in Washington on 12 April with US President George Bush, who sees democracy and market economies as the way to break "the cycle of poverty and repression that are fueling Arab extremism and terrorism". 

These ideas are enshrined in the Greater Middle East Initiative, which Washington wants to launch at the Group of Eight summit of leading industrial nations in June. 

Mubarak, who has ruled Egypt since 1981, has warned that the US plan could result in a "vortex of violence and anarchy," and that a gradual reform plan should be implemented instead. 

'Interference'

The Arab League summit will take
place in Tunis at the end of March

At a meeting early this month in Cairo, Arab foreign ministers described the US initiative as interference in their affairs and criticised its failure to address the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

Nearly all the Arab countries are ruled by authoritarian or military regimes which in the past had the blessing of the United States. 

But the 11 September, 2001 attacks on the United States caused Washington to review its backing, and the Arab regimes have been feeling more heat to undertake reforms after the US-led occupation of Iraq last year. 

Mubarak, like many of his Arab counterparts, has been insisting that their plans to reform be homegrown and not the result of US pressure. 

On 23 February, he said he would propose a law abolishing jail
sentences for journalists. 

Recommendations

This week's two-day conference will be organised by the
Alexandria Library, with participation from most Arab countries, said Ayman al-Amir, the library's communications director. 

The meeting is expected to adopt recommendations that will be submitted to the Arab summit on 29-30 March in Tunis "so that Arab heads of state hear the voices of civil society," he said.