Powell Pushes Democracy in Africa Trip

It was just four weeks ago that President Bush (search) called for a democratic revolution in the Muslim world, and Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) is making sure the message gets across.

Appeals for democracy have not often been agenda items for secretaries of state who travel in Muslim countries, but that was not the case during Powell's visits this week to Tunisia and Algeria. In Morocco, the third country on his itinerary, Powell spoke approvingly of democratic reforms already in place.

Bush said in November that the United States and its allies have been wrong in "excusing and accommodating" a lack of freedom in Muslim countries.

While at news conference in Algeria on Wednesday, Powell was hardly in a live-and-let live mood, saying Algeria's April 2004 presidential elections should be free, fair and transparent. He also said it should invite broad participation and guarantee access to the media for all candidates.

Analysts said that is a tall order for a country involved in a civil war, albeit at lower levels than those of a decade ago. The country appears divided between Islamists and those who favor a more secular approach to government.

Powell delivered a similar message on Tuesday in Tunisia, urging leaders there to step up political and economic reforms and lift restrictions on press freedom.

When it comes to reform, Powell said, Tunisia "has accomplished so much that people are expecting more to happen."

Powell did not go so far to suggest that President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali (search) should step down. The president has served for 16 years and made arrangements for constitutional changes that will allow him to remain for eight more years.

Powell seemed to hold up Morocco as a model for other Muslim countries to emulate, pointing out at a news conference Wednesday that Moroccan voters elect parliamentarians and regional officials and that new rules enable women to be virtually full participants in society.

But Powell seemed unwilling to go to the mat with Morocco over its reported mistreatment of detainees picked up in a crackdown after devastating terrorist attacks in Casablanca on May 16. The death toll was 33.

Asked whether he raised the reported abuses with King Mohammed VI (search), Powell declined to respond directly.

"We, of course, made it clear during course of my discussions that as one moves forward toward political reform, one has to remain committed to the concept of openness and freedom of expression," Powell said.

"When one cracks down on terrorism, it has to be with the full understanding of basic principles of human rights."

Powell's gentle handling of the issue may have reflected U.S. appreciation for Morocco's role as one of a relatively small number of countries which support U.S. policies on terrorism, Iraq and the Middle East.

U.S. relations with all three countries on Powell's itinerary seem to have been strengthened by the concern that each shares about terrorism. All have been targets of terrorism and all are eager to help each other with information sharing.

Bush has said he believes the best antidote to terrorism is freedom.