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11/24/03 - BUSH ON MIDDLE EAST REFORM - 2003-11-24

Arab scholars speak of a freedom deficit that has affected many parts of the Middle East. Equal justice under law, religious and economic liberty, political participation, free press, and respect for the rights of women have been scarce throughout the region. Now, says President George W. Bush, “a forward strategy of freedom” is necessary to ensure that the people of the Middle East are no longer cut off from social and material progress. And, says President Bush, things are beginning to change for the better:

“In an arc of reform from Morocco to Jordan to Qatar, we are seeing elections and new protections for women and the stirrings of political pluralism. Many governments are realizing that theocracy and dictatorship do not lead to national greatness; they end in national ruin. They’re finding, as others will find, that national progress and dignity are achieved when governments are just and people are free.”

President Bush says that the budding democratic process in the region was not imposed from abroad:

“And neither will the greater progress we hope to see. Freedom, by definition, must be chosen and defended by those who choose it. Our part, as free nations, is to ally ourselves with reform wherever it occurs.”

As President Bush says, the most helpful contribution that the United States and others can make is a change in attitude:

“In the West, there’s been a certain skepticism about the capacity or even the desire of Middle Eastern peoples for self-government. We’re told that Islam is somehow inconsistent with a democratic culture, yet more than half the world’s Muslims are today contributing citizens in democratic societies. It is suggested that the poor, in their daily struggles, care little for self-government, yet the poor especially need the power of democracy to defend themselves against corrupt elites.”

As President Bush puts it, “People from the Middle East share a high civilization, a religion of personal responsibility, and a need for freedom as deep as our own.”