Colin Powell is in Morocco today for the "Forum on the Future," a regional forum convened to explore issues of reform. I don't have much substantive to say about it right now - more next week, no doubt - but I just wanted to pass on how it is being covered in some major media outlets:
Al Jazeera: "The Forum for the Future Agrees on Reform From Within." The web story features a nice picture of Colin Powell, and the story is carefully neutral but largely positive. It describes the agenda as "taking steps on the path to reform and deepening democracy and dialogue and expanding the realm of participation in political life"; it notes that the participants all "agree that successful reform must come from within societies and not be imposed from outside"; and it pointedly notes "the sovereign rights of every country do develop its own political and social system without intervention in its internal affairs."
Al Arabiya: "With Powell in attendance: the beginning of the conference for spreading democracy in the Arab world; Arabs: America is not in a position to be giving 'lessons' to the Arab world."
Al Hayat: "Forum for the Future for Arab reforms begins by 'marginalizing' civil society."
Al Quds Al Arabi: "No American objection to continuity or hereditary rule in Egypt... and fundamental reform for Saudi; Also on the American agenda: total escalation with Syria... Gaza is key to peace.. and support for Shia rule in Iraq."
The Saudi owned, pro-American Al Sharq Al Awsat rather oddly keeps the Forum for the Future off of the front page completely.
In general, then, at least in the Arab view this is pretty much the opposite of what the neo-cons have been talking about for the last couple of years, and a big step back from the heady talk of pushing democracy in the Arab world. It has taken in the criticisms and controversies sparked by the Greater Middle East Project earlier in the year, and is now emphasizing consultation with governments, and prioritizing "modernization", economic and institutional development, rather than immediate political reforms. It seems to be taking the perspective of Arab governments, most of which are happy to talk about economic reform and have no real interest in political reform, and not that of Arab civil society.
But let's wait and see how it develops over the next few days before coming to any conclusions...