Suppressing Would-Be Arab Reformers

Three weeks ago, NYT columnist Thomas Friedman revealed that the Bush administration had for months been delaying the release of the U.N.’s third Arab Human Development Report (AHDR). The independent, Arabic-language publication has won wide praise for championing sweeping regional, pluralistic reforms. This year, however, the report criticized the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and the White House apparently wouldn’t let it stand.

An unnamed senior State Department official denied Friedman’s account. He said only that “some officials at the department had made ‘a couple of inquiries’” about the content of the AHDR, and that “the inquiries did not amount to criticism.”

Not so, says the report’s lead author in newly reported statements. Egyptian scholar Nader Fergani tells the Daily Star the White House actually “threatened a significant cut in its funding of the United Nations Development Program unless the UN agency” revised the report. Fergani and the panel of AHDR authors have balked and are refusing to make further edits, though U.N. officials reportedly judge their findings to be “factual and fair.” Nevertheless, the White House message to Arab reformers is clear: toe our line, or stay out of the debate.