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11/11/03 - IRANIANS WANT DEMOCRACY - 2003-11-12

Across North Africa and the Middle East, people are demanding that authoritarian rule give way to democracy and respect for human rights. President George W. Bush said governments in the Middle East should get the message:

"As changes come to the Middle East region, those in power should ask themselves: Will they be remembered for resisting reform, or for leading it? In Iran, the demand for democracy is strong and broad, as we saw last month when thousands gathered to welcome home Shirin Ebadi, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. The regime in Tehran must heed the democratic demands of the Iranian people, or lose its last claim to legitimacy."

Shirin Ebadi speaks for many Iranians tired of repressive Muslim clerical rule. One of Iran's first female judges, she was forced out when the extremist Muslim regime took power in 1979. An outspoken defender of human rights, especially for women, she was jailed in 2000. "We will only have the rule of law in Iran on the day that women are treated the same as men under the law," she said.

Democracy in Iran, President Bush pointed out, will reflect Iran's proud history and culture. He said that by supporting the rights and aspirations of Iranians and other peoples of the Middle East, the U.S. will help secure peace and prosperity for the entire region:

"Therefore, the United States has adopted a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in Middle East. This strategy requires the same persistence and energy and idealism we have shown before. And it will yield the same results. As in Europe, as in Asia, as in every region of the word, the advance of freedom leads to peace."

President Bush acknowledged that in the past, the U.S. and other democracies made a serious mistake in "excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East." Such compromises failed because, as President Bush put it, "stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty."