Conference bemoans sidelining of pro-democracy efforts

Sharansky: Despite criticism of Bush, "at least we can talk to him about a democratic agenda."

sharansky 88 (photo credit: )
sharansky 88
(photo credit: )
"I feel disappointed and betrayed by George Bush," Egyptian dissident Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim told journalists Monday on the eve of the "Democracy and Security" conference in Prague, which Bush is scheduled to attend Tuesday. "He said that he is promoting democracy, but he has been manipulated by President Mubarak, who managed to frighten him with the threat of the Islamists." The conference is a joint venture of The Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem, the Prague Security Studies Institute and the Spanish FAES Foundation, and is aimed at placing the struggle for democracy around the world high on the agenda. Ibrahim, the most famous democratic activist in Egypt who spent three years in jail, was voicing a general feeling among the democracy activists and dissidents attending the conference that the campaign for democracy spearheaded by the Bush administration has been sidelined in recent years due to the bitter argument over the Iraq war and US concerns over open elections allowing radical and Islamist elements to take power. Former minister Natan Sharansky, chairman of the Adelson Institute who has been working to organize the conference, agreed that the democracy project has lost steam. "You can't promote an agenda of democracy and then make concessions to the Saudis," he said. "You can't say that Egypt should have elections and then say that we must strengthen Mubarak." But Sharansky added that despite the criticism he has for Bush's conduct over the last couple of years, "at least we can talk to him about a democratic agenda." Bush will attend the conference on the way to the G8 summit in Germany, after being personally invited by Sharansky in February. "The great thing about Bush," said Sharansky, "is that he doesn't act upon opinion polls. I hope that he will use his last year in office helping dissidents around the world. I know it wo't be easy for him; the State Department won't like it." Sharansky and former Czech president Vaclav Havel will present the "Prague Document" at the conference, a list of actions that Western governments will be asked to carry out to promote democracy in repressive societies, such as enabling freedom of speech, free elections and allowing international access to dissidents and activists. The aim is for Western parliaments to pass their own version of the Prague Document as law and set it as a list of conditions for trade with and aid to other countries around the world. Sharansky criticized the major European governments for not doing enough to counter the restrictions of democracy in Russia by President Vladimir Putin. "He shouldn't have been allowed to join the G8 only because of Germany's commercial interests," he said. The aim of the conference is to allow democracy activists from around the world to meet with Western decision and opinion-makers. "The sooner the international community realizes that the dissidents from places like Iran are the real representatives of their country, and not the government in power, it will be better," Sharansky said. "That will allow us to also deal with the question of the Iranian nuclear program. A democratic Iran will have a different set of priorities."