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Europe must be ready for Arab reform long haul

(WARSAW) - Europe should prepare for the long haul of democratic reform in the Arab world, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski said Wednesday as his country is to assume the EU presidency July 1.

To support this process of democracy-building, Warsaw has proposed the creation of an "autonomous and abundantly financed" European foundation or endowment for democracy, Sikorski told foreign journalists in Warsaw.

"Transforming a 500 million Arab, Muslim world towards democracy will not take a couple of years -- it will take a couple of decades at least," Sikorski observed.

"We need an instrument, an institution that will help them irrespective of changes of regimes there and changes of governments here," he said, while expressing optimism about developments, especially in Tunisia.

"I think that so far so good in North Africa," Sikorski said. "There will be successes and there will be reversals," he added.

"My impression is first of all, Tunisia is most likely to succeed because they have an educated population, because they've liberated their women, because they are so closely tied by thousands of invisible links to France, to Europe, because they have a sophisticated intellectual and political elite," Sikorski said.

"Egypt is harder because of illiteracy, because of the strength of some radicals, because of the ethnic mix," he added.

Poland, which itself shed communism just over two decades ago, going on to join NATO in 1999 and the EU in 2004, is keen to share its "added value" in transformation experience, Sikorski said.

On Friday Warsaw is to begin its first-ever six-month stint as head of the European Union's rotating presidency.


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