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Throughout the Middle East, personal, political, and economic freedoms remain all too rare. Until recently, Western countries, including the U.S., tended to excuse the lack of freedom in Arab or Muslim countries. They hoped, as President George W. Bush has said, “to purchase stability at the price of liberty.” But this policy did not work. Instead, it helped to make the Middle East a breeding ground for Islamic terrorism.

But the era of the U.S. accommodating Arab dictatorships is now over. White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says the U.S. “has adopted a forward strategy for freedom for the Middle East”:

“We are supporting the people of Afghanistan and Iraq as they fight terrorists and extremism and work to build democratic government. We have joined with our NATO and [Group of Eight] allies to help the people of the broader Middle East and North Africa to create jobs, increase access to capital, improve literacy and education, protect human rights, and make progress toward democracy.”

Recent reports by the United Nations written by Arab intellectuals have made it clear that the lack of democracy is the main reason Arab economies and societies are stagnating in almost every area.

One particular focus of U.S. efforts is women’s rights. Two recent programs supported by America’s new Middle East Partnership Initiative were aimed at helping Arab women participate effectively in politics. Workshops were held in Algeria and Tunisia to teach women such political skills as campaign planning, message development, and dealing with the media. And in Morocco, the U.S. is helping a theater company stage plays that show the harm caused by abuses against women and children.

“These efforts begin from a simple principle,” says National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. “America is taking the side of the millions of people in the Muslim world who long for freedom, who cherish learning and progress, and who seek economic opportunity for themselves and their children.”