6.27.2005

Rice Urges Egypt To Lead the Middle East Reform Movement

Secretary of state calls Egypt central to success of Israel's Gaza withdrawal

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice praised Egypt for its historic leadership in the Middle East and urged the Egyptian people to continue playing a leadership role in political reforms within the region.

Speaking to reporters at a joint press conference with Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit June 20 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, Rice said, "Egypt has often led the way in this region on so many issues; and we look to the Egyptians and the Egyptian people to also take a major role in leading reform in this region, which is reform that is well under way here in the Middle East."

Rice welcomed the steps the Egyptian leadership has taken to open the presidential election process to multiple candidates, but she also urged the government to take all necessary measures to ensure that the elections are truly free and fair.

“We have made very clear that we believe that Egypt is such an important country, now that President [Hosni] Mubarak has opened this door and taken this important first step, that it is going to be essential that these elections be free and fair, that there be an opportunity for opposition to have access to media, that there is a sense of competitiveness in the elections,” she said.

Rice dismissed the notion that U.S. support for democratic political reforms in the region is derived from any sense of moral superiority.

“[T]he United States is not passing judgment,” she said. “What the United States is doing is speaking to a set of core values and principles that the United States holds, but that we believe are universal principles.” She said these principles include such things as civil rights, universal access to education and respect for human dignity.

Rice said Americans understand that democracy is a difficult and ongoing process, noting that it took nearly 100 years for the United States to abolish slavery and nearly 200 years to pass the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed everyone the right to vote, but she added that the United States would not shy away from embracing democratic principles as a worthwhile goal for any country.

Responding to a question about America’s credibility in talking about political reforms given scandals surrounding the U.S. treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq and at the Guantanamo Bay Naval base in Cuba, the secretary said, “[D]emocracy does not guarantee that people will not do bad things …. But what democracy guarantees is that they will be openly and transparently debated, in large part because there is a free press …. And you can go to the halls of Congress and you can hear debates about it, you can hear the Secretary of Defense have to testify, and the President of the United States have to address the issue. And you can go to the American court system -- in this case the military justice system -- and see that people are being held accountable for their actions.”

Rice also spoke about Egypt’s central role in ensuring that Israel’s planned withdrawal from Gaza is secure and orderly.

“[W]e really do have to concentrate on getting this to be a withdrawal that is successful,” she said. “That then will create a momentum, it will create trust, it will create confidence between the two parties.”

Israel plans to withdraw from all of its 21 settlements in Gaza and four settlements in the West Bank in August.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit stressed that the Israeli withdrawal must be complete and comprehensive.

“Israeli forces as well as the settlers should come out and withdraw from the whole of the Gaza Strip,” he said. “[W]e have to ensure for the Palestinians the harbor as well as the airport and the connection to Egypt on one and to the West Bank on the other. That is crucial. Why is it so? Because it should not be a prison; it should be a place where the Palestinians can breathe and can prosper.”


(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

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