Secretary Rice Urges Democratic Change in the Middle East

In Cairo, calls upon Egypt to take a leading role in spreading freedom

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called for greater democracy in the Middle East, arguing that “the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty.”

Speaking June 20 at the American University of Cairo, Rice told her Egyptian audience that their country could help to “lead and define” the future of the region.

“The day is coming when the promise of a fully free and democratic world, once thought impossible, will also seem inevitable. The people of Egypt should be at the forefront of this great journey, just as you have led this region through the great journeys of the past,” she said.

Rice said the Bush administration’s call for democracy marks a change from long-standing U.S. policy. “For 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East -- and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people,” she said.

“When we talk about democracy, we are referring to governments that protect certain basic rights for all their citizens -- among these, the right to speak freely. The right to associate. The right to worship as you wish. The freedom to educate your children -- boys and girls. And freedom from the midnight knock of the secret police,” Rice said.

The secretary countered claims that freedom and democracy lead to civil unrest, violence and the erosion of moral standards, describing both as “the only ideas powerful enough to overcome hatred, division, and violence.”

“For people of diverse races and religions, the inclusive nature of democracy can lift the fear of difference that some believe is a license to kill,” and can help to “build trust and settle old disputes with dignity,” she said.

“And for all citizens with grievances, democracy can be a path to lasting justice,” Rice said.
However, she said that democratic advances “will not come easily, or all at once,” and require hard work on behalf of “people of goodwill” and “leaders of vision and character.”

“The success of democracy depends on public character and private virtue. For democracy to thrive, free citizens must work every day to strengthen their families, to care for their neighbors, and to support their communities,” she said.

Rice cited signs of increased democracy and the desire for democracy around the region, in Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

“Millions of people are demanding freedom for themselves and democracy for their countries,” she said. “To these courageous men and women, I say today: All free nations will stand with you as you secure the blessings of your own liberty.”

She praised pro-democracy activists for “demonstrating that all great moral achievements begin with individuals who do not accept that the reality of today must also be the reality of tomorrow.”

In Cairo, Secretary Rice welcomed President Hosni Mubarak’s decision to hold multiparty presidential elections. However, she repeated the Bush administration’s concerns over the treatment of Egyptian opposition figures, particularly the violence that accompanied a May 25 vote on a referendum to allow multiparty candidates in the presidential campaign.

“The day must come when the rule of law replaces emergency decrees -- and when the independent judiciary replaces arbitrary justice,” she said.

Calling for free presidential and parliamentary elections, Rice said President Mubarak’s government “must fulfill the promise it has made to its people -- and to the entire world -- by giving its citizens the freedom to choose.”

Rice also criticized Saudi Arabia for the detention of three opposition figures who have been imprisoned “for peacefully petitioning their government,” which she said, “should not be a crime in any country.”

Secretary Rice is traveling in the Middle East before heading to Brussels, Belgium, for a conference on international assistance for Iraq June 21-22, and a Group of Eight (or G8, consisting of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, the United States and Russia) ministerial meeting in London.

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

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