Monday, June 20, 2005

Rice Talks Tough

Secretary of State Rice issued a strong challenge to Egypt, Syria and other Arab countries today in a Cairo speech, saying "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. Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people."

The New York Times calls the talk "some of the toughest talk in the Arab world from a secretary of state," and notes that it was met with mixed reviews from her audience ... ranging from critical to dismissive.

Of Iran, Rice said "The appearance of elections does not mask the organized cruelty of Iran's theocratic state. ... The time has come for the unelected few to release their grip on the aspirations of the proud people of Iran."

Of Syria: "One hundred and seventy-nine Syrian academics and human rights activists are calling upon their government to 'let the Damascus spring flower, and let its flowers bloom.' Syria’s leaders should embrace this call - and learn to trust their people. The case of Syria is especially serious, because as its neighbors embrace democracy and political reform, Syria continues to harbor or directly support groups committed to violence - in Lebanon, and in Israel, and Iraq, and in the Palestinian territories. It is time for Syria to make a strategic choice to join the progress that is going on all around it."

Of Saudi Arabia: "[B]rave citizens are demanding accountable government. And some good first steps toward openness have been taken with recent municipal elections. Yet many people pay an unfair price for exercising their basic rights. Three individuals in particular are currently imprisoned for peacefully petitioning their government. That should not be a crime in any country."

And of the host country, Egypt: "[H]ere in Cairo, President Mubarak’s decision to amend the country’s constitution and hold multiparty elections is encouraging. President Mubarak has unlocked the door for change. 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. The Egyptian Government must fulfill the promise it has made to its people - and to the entire world - by giving its citizens the freedom to choose. Egypt’s elections, including the Parliamentary elections, must meet objective standards that define every free election."

Strong words from the Secretary of State. But until they are backed up by meaningful actions, they are nothing but. I hope action will be forthcoming, but unfortunately I'm not going to hold my breath.


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