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Bush says Mideast must be free, too

By Associated Press
Published November 7, 2003

WASHINGTON - Repudiating decades of U.S. policy, President Bush said Thursday the United States and its allies have been wrong in "excusing and accommodating" a lack of freedom in the Middle East. He prodded Saudi Arabia and Egypt to lead Arab nations toward democracy.

Mindful of widespread anger and mistrust in the Muslim world toward the United States, Bush also said that as democratic governments emerge in the Middle East, they should reflect their own cultures and "will not and should not look like us."

He said it would take time for democracy to spread and the United States would be "patient and understanding."

Bush's speech appeared aimed at complaints in the Arab world that the United States has long tolerated corrupt, undemocratic regimes in return for stability and a reliable supply of oil. Washington began to rethink its policy after the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, and the emergence of deep hostility in the Mideast toward the United States. Fifteen of the Sept. 11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia.

"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe - and in the long run, stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty," the president said in a groundbreaking conclusion.

Bush spoke before the National Endowment for Democracy, an organization formed during the Reagan administration to promote global freedom.

Bush put Iraq at the center of hopes for democracy.

"The failure of Iraqi democracy would embolden terrorists around the world, increase dangers to the American people and extinguish the hopes of millions in the region," he said.

Bush said some skeptics assert the traditions of Islam are incompatible with representative government.

"It should be clear to all that Islam - the faith of one-fifth of humanity - is consistent with democratic rule," the president said. He said democratic progress has been found in predominantly Muslim countries including Turkey, Indonesia, Senegal, Albania, Niger and Sierra Leone.

Mideast leaders should ask themselves if they will be remembered "for resisting reform or for leading it," Bush said. In particular, he singled out Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

"The Saudi government is taking first steps toward reform, including a plan for gradual introduction of elections," Bush said. "By giving the Saudi people a greater role in their own society, the Saudi government can demonstrate true leadership in the region."

Turning to Egypt, the first Arab nation to make peace with Israel, Bush said, "The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East."

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