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11/15/03 - WINDS OF CHANGE IN THE MIDEAST - 2003-11-17

Democracy will come to the Middle East, says Secretary of State Colin Powell, because the people there feel the “winds of freedom on their faces. Dictators and despots can build walls high enough to keep out armies,” he said, “but not high enough to keep those winds from blowing in."

The nations in the Middle East, Secretary of State Powell said on November 10th, have many challenges to overcome. They include securing political freedom and equality for everyone, including women, fighting corruption and terrorism, and promoting health, education, and economic reform. But progress is being made. In addition to the efforts toward democratic governance in newly-liberated Iraq and Afghanistan, Mr. Powell cited recent elections in Jordan, a new constitution in Qatar, expansion of the right to vote in Oman, a popularly elected parliament in Bahrain, and a growing multiparty system in Yemen.

Dramatic change is also underway in Iran. As Secretary of State Powell said, "The Iranian people want their freedom back, of this there can be no doubt.”

The struggle continues between those who want to keep Iran mired in violence and corruption and those who want a more engaged and modern nation. The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to an Iranian citizen, Shirin Ebadi, is a sign of the sweeping desire for change across Iranian society. As Mr. Powell said, “When Shirin Ebadi returned home to Iran, Peace Prize in her hands, tens of thousands of Iranians came out to greet her." The despots who rule Iran, he said, understand the threat that demonstration poses:

“The hidebound [narrow, rigid] clerics of Iran know what it means. Should they be worried? Does morning follow night? They should be.”

As Secretary of State Powell said, “The rulers of non-democratic societies in the Muslim world really have only two choices: lead the way to democratic change, or be destroyed by it, [and] left behind. For the sake of [the people], we hope they choose well.”