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Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is Iran's former president and current head of its Expediency Council, which arbitrates disputes between parliament and the Council of Guardians. Like other Iranian officials, he has made clear his opposition to democratic reform in the Middle East. Mr. Rafsanjani claims “the U.S.-sponsored Middle East initiative is Iran's major challenge with the Americans who are intent on imposing their culture and democracy on the region.”

President George W. Bush's insistence that the people of the Middle East have the right to live in freedom is a major challenge to the non-elected clerical rulers in Iran. But Mr. Bush says the U.S. has no interest in forcing other countries to remake themselves in America's image:

“I fully understand that a free society in the Middle East is going to reflect the culture and traditions of the people in that country, not America.”

Mr. Bush says that “freedom cannot be imposed from abroad”:

“But free nations can, and must, choose to ally ourselves with reformers, wherever they are, and with reform, wherever it occurs. I fully know that democratization is not the same as Westernization. Nations as different as Romania and the Philippines, Nicaragua and Senegal and Turkey, show that freedom takes different forms around the globe, and that new liberties can find an honored place amidst ancient traditions. Democratic governments in the Middle East will reflect their own cultures and their own traditions.”

Mr. Bush is not the only one speaking out on the need for democracy and reform. Political and business leaders from across the Middle East have met in conferences in Alexandria, Istanbul, Sanaa, and Aqaba to discuss modernization and reform, and to call for political, economic, and social change.

And now, Abdelwahed Belkeziz, the Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, is speaking out. Mr. Belkaziz says it is “high time for the Islamic world to take a decisive position on democracy.” He deplores the poor record of Islamic nations on issues ranging from education to women's rights to economic development, and calls for a “civilizational self-examination. . .aimed at working an internal reform. . .renewing its democratic, political, social, and economic institutions.”

President Bush has pledged assistance to those demanding change. “We have an obligation to support them in their search for a freer, more prosperous future,” he says. “We will meet the obligation.”