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2/8/04 - REFORM IN THE MIDDLE EAST - 2004-02-09

President George W. Bush has asked the U.S. Congress to fund programs to encourage economic, political, and legal reforms in the Middle East:

“We’re challenging the enemies of reform, confronting the allies of terror, and expecting a higher standard from our friends. For too long, American policy looked away while men and women were oppressed, their rights ignored, and their hopes stifled. That era is over and we can be confident. As in Germany, and Japan, and Eastern Europe, liberty will overcome oppression in the Middle East.”

In Morocco, Jordan, Qatar, and elsewhere, Arab reformers are starting to push for change. They are seeking democratic elections, new protections for women, and a genuine political pluralism. President Bush “is reading the situation correctly,” says Gehad Auda, a political scientist at Helwan University in Egypt.

When the leaders of reform ask for help, says Mr. Bush, they will get it: “The stakes could not be higher. As long as that region is a place of tyranny and despair and anger, it will produce men and movements that threaten the safety of Americans and our friends. We seek the advance of democracy for the most practical of reasons: because democracies do not support terrorists, or threaten the world with weapons of mass murder.”

The U.S. is backing up its words with actions: Providing technical assistance to countries seeking to join the World Trade Organization. Establishing programs to give business skills to Arab women. Supporting judicial reformers who demand independent courts and the rule of law. Supplying schools with textbooks to improve educational systems.

Achieving democratic change in the Middle East will be the work of many nations over time. But the impetus for democracy in Arab countries must come from within.