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9/15/04 - ARABS AND DEMOCRACY - 2004-09-07

Freedom does not flourish in the Middle East. And as long as this remains the case, says President George W. Bush, the Middle East “will remain a place of stagnation, resentment, and violence ready for export.” Mr. Bush says the U.S. is working to encourage the development of democratic institutions in the region:

“By serving the ideal of liberty, we’re bringing hope to others, and we’re making our country more secure. By serving the ideal of liberty, we are making the world more peaceful. . . . Freedom is not America’s gift to the world; freedom is the Almighty God’s gift to each man and woman in this world."

Not long ago, a group of Arab intellectuals met in Egypt to discuss ways to encourage change. They put their thoughts in a manifesto known as the Alexandria Declaration. The document calls for democracy, free expression, tolerance, and the rule of law in Arab countries.

Les Campbell is regional director for Middle East programs at the National Democratic Institute. He says the meeting in Egypt is a step in the right direction:

“I think it does represent something new in the sense that a number of Arab intellectuals, civil society activists, people who have been working around the margins of democracy in the Arab world came together primarily without outside encouragement. It’s mostly an indigenous effort, and [they] put forth a statement of principles. And that’s not so much new as it is a culmination of a lot of years of discussion and work.”

Les Campbell says that while there are no genuinely democratic governments in the Arab world, there are countries that have at least the beginnings of a multi-party system:

“Yemen and Morocco would be good examples of multi-party systems. There are countries where there is some freedom of expression, some newspapers that are relatively free, some civil society organizations that try to put some pressure on the legislatures.”

“For too long,” says President Bush, many people in the Middle East “have been victims and subjects. They deserve to be active citizens.”