In a recent speech to the World Economic Forum in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, President George Bush stressed the importance of political reform in the Middle East. Freedom, said Mr. Bush, is "the basis for a democratic system of government, which is the only fair and just ordering of society and the only way to guarantee the God-given rights of all people."
Mr. Bush noted that democracies do not all take the same form. They develop at different speeds and in different ways as they reflect the unique cultures and traditions of their people. There are those, said President Bush, who are skeptical that democracy could work in the Middle East.
"But as more people in the Middle East gain firsthand experience from freedom, many of the arguments against democracy are being discredited," said Mr. Bush:
"And as we've seen time and time again, when people are allowed to make a choice between freedom and the alternative, they choose freedom. In Afghanistan, eight-million people defied the terrorist threats to vote for a democratic president. In Iraq, twelve-million people waved ink-stained fingers to celebrate the first democratic election in decades."
There are also those who claim that democracy is incompatible with Islam. But the truth, said President Bush, is that democracies, by definition, make a place for people of religious belief. America is one of the most religious nations in the world. Millions worship every week and pray every day. And they do so without fear of reprisal from the state. "In our democracy," said President Bush, "we would never punish a person for owning a Koran. We would never issue a death sentence for someone converting to Islam. Democracy does not threaten Islam or any religion. Democracy," said President Bush, "is the only system of government that guarantees their protection."
Too often in the Middle East, politics has consisted of one leader in power and the opposition in jail. America is deeply concerned about the plight of political prisoners in this region. The time has come, said President Bush, for nations across the Middle East to release their prisoners of conscience, open up their political debate, and trust their people to chart their future.