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3/13/04 - MIDDLE EAST REFORM - 2004-03-15

Across the Middle East, people are speaking out for reform and modernization. As Taufiq Hamdosch, an ethnic Kurdish activist from Syria put it, “Without democracy, we will move backward while other nations move forward.”

In a recent United Nations report, a group of Arab scholars said the global wave of democracy has “barely reached the Arab states.” And this “freedom deficit,” the report says, “undermines human development.” That is why, says President George W. Bush, the U.S. is pursuing a “forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East”:

“When the leaders of reform ask for our help, America will give it.”

This month, U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Marc Grossman traveled to several Middle Eastern countries to discuss ways to support those “who are producing reform.” Mr. Grossman stressed that the best ideas for reform will come from Arabs themselves. The idea that change can somehow be imposed by the U.S., he said, “is completely wrong.”

Under Secretary of State Grossman also emphasized that the effort to support reform is not a substitute for the effort the U.S. is making to help bring about an Israeli-Palestinian peace. The U.S. has been outspoken about the need for a Palestinian state. But for this to happen, both Israelis and Palestinians must meet certain obligations. And on the Palestinian side, this includes ending terrorism and moving toward democracy.

There should be no doubt, says President Bush, that “democracy is a realistic goal for the greater Middle East”:

“It is mistaken, and condescending, to assume that whole cultures and great religions are incompatible with liberty and self-government. I believe that God has planted in every human heart the desire to live in freedom.”

Democracy, the rule of law, freedom of speech and expression are what the people of all nations want.