The cause of freedom is being advanced around the world, including the Middle East. People have gone to the polls to elect governments in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Palestinian Territories. In Lebanon, tens of thousands standing together in mass demonstrations helped force an end to Syrian occupation and create an opportunity for free elections. And in Kuwait, women have been given political rights for the first time.
Those struggling for democracy in the Middle East face many challenges. In a recent speech to members of the World Economic Forum meeting in Jordan, U.S. First Lady Laura Bush stressed the importance of educating children for the responsibilities of freedom. "Education," she said, "can help children see beyond a world of hate and hopelessness to one of unlimited opportunity. Education helps free the mind from ignorance and bigotry. Education unleashes the creative contributions of every citizen, to improve their own lives and to build the common good. Education benefits all," said Mrs. Bush, "and education should be available to all."
But in too many parts of the Middle East, education is a luxury, unavailable to many or only offered to a select few. Too often, girls are prevented from attending school by custom, lack of resources, and oppression. The result is that too many people in the region can neither read nor take advantage of the opportunities that come with education. According to the United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization, across the broader Middle East and North Africa, more than seventy-five million women and more than forty-five million men are illiterate.
To help turn the situation around, the U.S. is working with other governments to expand educational opportunities, especially for women and girls. Middle Eastern governments have set a goal of helping twenty-million people achieve literacy skills by 2015. Jordan has increased its literacy rate to ninety percent, thanks in part to U.S. support for expanding kindergarten programs in the public schools. Through the Middle East Partnership for Peace, the U.S. is working with Jordan, Lebanon, and Bahrain to distribute translated children's books to elementary schools.
"As freedom becomes a fact of life for rising generations in the Middle East," said First Lady Laura Bush, "young people need to grow up with a full understanding of freedom's rights and responsibilities." "People who can read a magazine or a newspaper or a textbook," she said, "can gain the knowledge and skills to help shape their countries, and their own lives."
The preceding was an editorial reflecting the views of the United States government.