Saying that the American pursuit of stability in the Middle East at the expense of democratic reforms has gained neither, Condoleeza Rice, clearly stated the American policy on democratic reform in the Arab world. "Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people," she said.
Rice also called on Egypt to conduct open elections later this year. Given that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has not allowed open and fair opposition in years it is unlikely he will face any serious threat to his job. But the Secretary of State's speech served notice and has put pressure on the Egyptians to end harassment and persecution of opposition parties. Earlier this year a anti-Mubarak ralley was broken up by Mubarak supporters and men were beaten and women molested. Hosni Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981, is unlikely to face a serious rival, analysts say. "President Mubarak has unlocked the door for change. But now, the Egyptian government must put its faith in its own people. We are all concerned for the future of Egypt's reforms when peaceful supporters of democracy -- men and women -- are not free from violence. The day must come when the rule of law replaces emergency decrees, and when the independent judiciary replaces arbitrary justice," she said to an audience of hundreds at American University.
"For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region, here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither," she told an audience that included government officials and academics.
"Throughout the Middle East the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty," Ms Rice said.
"It is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy."
Her speech came on a day when elections in Lebanon moved that country closer to a complete change of government. Lebanese politician Saad al-Hariri, son of the late Hafik Hariri killed earlier this year by terrorisats, pledged sweeping reforms on Monday after his anti-Syrian alliance won control of parliament in the first elections for three decades without Syrian troops in Lebanon.
Democratic reform in the Middle East hinges on many factors. Perhaps the key area is Iraq. Although elections were held last January and a new governemtn has been formed the country is a long way from seeing democratic reform restore peace and normalcy to this nation. The Bush administration is under increasing pressure to state a date for pulling troops out of the country and leaving the new government on its own. This is not likely to happen in the short term. It appear America is going to be in the country for a long time yet.
Reforming centuries of tradition based on Muslim theology is a daunting task, one that will not happen soon, if at all. There are many deep underlying forces at work in the region. This article by historian Victor Davis Hanson is a good analysis of the those forces who oppose western style democracy. While he believes we are succeeding in Iraq and Afghanistan he shows it is an uphill struggle. Here is the core of his article:
The problem the administration faces is not entirely a military one: Our armed forces continue to perform heroically and selflessly under nearly impossible conditions of global scrutiny and hypercriticism. There has not been an attack on the U.S. since 9/11 - despite carnage in Madrid and over 1,000 slaughtered in Russia by various Islamic terrorists during the same period.
Rather, the American public is tiring of the Middle East, its hypocrisy and whiny logic - and to such a degree that it sometimes unfortunately doesn't make distinctions for the Iraqi democratic government or other Arab reformers, but rather is slowly coming to believe the entire region is ungracious, hopeless, and not worth another American soldier or dollar.
This is a dangerous trend. Despite murderous Syrian terrorists, dictatorial Saudis, crazy Pakistanis, and triangulating European allies, and after so many tragic setbacks, we are close to creating lasting democratic states in Afghanistan and Iraq - states that are influencing the entire region and ending the old calculus of Middle Eastern terror. We are winning even as we are told we are losing. But the key is that the American people need to be told - honestly and daily - how and why those successes came about and must continue before it sours on the entire sorry bunch
You can read the rest of his article here.