The United States values our strategic relationship
and our strengthening economic ties with Egypt. And American
presidents since Ronald Reagan have benefited from the wisdom
and the counsel of President Mubarak, with whom I had the
pleasure of meeting earlier today.
The people of America and Egypt have always
desired to visit one another and to learn from one another.
And the highest ideals of our partnership are embodied right
here, in the American University of Cairo. This great center
of learning has endured and thrived -- from the days when
our friendship was somewhat rocky, to today, when the relationship
is strong. And I am very grateful and honored to address you
in the halls of this great center of learning.
Throughout its history, Egypt has always led
this region through its moments of greatest decision. In the
early 19th century, it was the reform-minded dynasty of Muhammad
Ali that distinguished Egypt from the Ottoman Empire and began
to transform it into the region’s first modern nation.
In the early 20th century, it was the forward-looking
Wafd Party that rose in the aftermath of the First World War
and established Cairo as the liberal heart of the "Arab
Awakening." And just three decades ago, it was Anwar
Sadat who showed the way forward for the entire Middle East
-- beginning difficult economic reforms and making peace with
Israel. In these periods of historic decision, Egypt’s
leadership was as visionary as it was essential for progress.
And now in our own time, we are faced with equally momentous
choices -- choices that will echo for generations to come.
In this time of great decision, I have come
to Cairo not to talk about the past, but to look to the future
-- to a future that Egyptians can lead and can define. Ladies
and Gentlemen: In our world today, a growing number of men
and women are securing their liberty. And as these people
gain the power to choose, they are creating democratic governments
in order to protect their natural rights.
We should all look to a future when every
government respects the will of its citizens -- because the
ideal of democracy is universal. 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.
As President Bush said in his Second Inaugural
Address: "America will not impose our style of government
on the unwilling. Our goal instead is to help others find
their own voice, to attain their own freedom, and to make
their own way."
We know these advances will not come easily,
or all at once. We know that different societies will find
forms of democracy that work for them. When we talk about
democracy, though, we are referring to governments that protect
certain basic rights for all their citizens -- among these,
the right to speak freely. The right to associate. The right
to worship as you wish. The freedom to educate your children
-- boys and girls. And freedom from the midnight knock of
the secret police.
Securing these rights is the hope of every
citizen, and the duty of every government. In my own country,
the progress of democracy has been long and difficult. And
given our history, the United States has no cause for false
pride and we have every reason for humility.
After all, America was founded by individuals
who knew that all human beings -- and the governments they
create -- are inherently imperfect. And the United States
was born half free and half slave. And it was only in my lifetime
that my government guaranteed the right to vote for all of
Nevertheless, the principles enshrined in
our Constitution enable citizens of conviction to move America
closer every day to the ideal of democracy. Here in the Middle
East, that same long hopeful process of democratic change
is now beginning to unfold. Millions of people are demanding
freedom for themselves and democracy for their countries.
To these courageous men and women, I say today:
All free nations will stand with you as you secure the blessings
of your own liberty. I have just come from Jordan, where I
met with the King and Queen -- two leaders who have embraced
reform for many years. And Jordan’s education reforms
are an example for the entire region. That government is moving
toward political reforms that will decentralize power and
give Jordanians a greater stake in their future.
In Iraq, millions of citizens are refusing
to surrender to terror the dream of freedom and democracy.
When Baghdad was first designed, over twelve-hundred years
ago, it was conceived as the "Round City" -- a city
in which no citizen would be closer to the center of justice
than any other. Today -- after decades of murder, and tyranny,
and injustice -- the citizens of Iraq are again reaching for
the ideals of the Round City.
Despite the attacks of violent and evil men,
ordinary Iraqis are displaying great personal courage and
remarkable resolve. And every step of the way -- from regaining
their sovereignty, to holding elections, to now writing a
constitution -- the people of Iraq are exceeding all expectations.
The Palestinian people have also spoken. And
their freely-elected government is working to seize the best
opportunity in years to fulfill their historic dream of statehood.
Courageous leaders, both among the Palestinians and the Israelis,
are dedicated to seeking that peace. And they are working
to build a shared trust.
The Palestinian Authority will soon take control
of the Gaza -- a first step toward realizing the vision of
two democratic states living side by side in peace and security.
As Palestinians fight terror, and as the Israelis fulfill
their obligations and responsibilities to help create a viable
Palestinian state, the entire world -- especially Egypt and
the United States -- will offer full support.
In Lebanon, supporters of democracy are demanding
independence from foreign masters. After the assassination
of Rafiq Hariri, thousands of Lebanese citizens called for
change. And when the murder of journalist Samir Qaseer reminded
everyone of the reach and brutality of terror, the Lebanese
people were still unafraid.
They mourned their fellow patriot, but they
united publicly with pens and pencils held aloft. It is not
only the Lebanese people who desire freedom from Syria’s
police state. The Syrian people themselves share that aspiration.
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.
In Iran, people are losing patience with an
oppressive regime that denies them their liberty and their
rights. The appearance of elections does not mask the organized
cruelty of Iran’s theocratic state. The Iranian people,
ladies and gentlemen, are capable of liberty. They desire
liberty. And they deserve liberty. The time has come for the
unelected few to release their grip on the aspirations of
the proud people of Iran.
In Saudi Arabia, brave 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.
Now, here 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
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.
Opposition groups must be free to assemble,
and to participate, and to speak to the media. Voting should
occur without violence or intimidation. And international
election monitors and observers must have unrestricted access
to do their jobs.
Those who would participate in elections,
both supporters and opponents of the government, also have
responsibilities. They must accept the rule of law, they must
reject violence, they must respect the standards of free elections,
and they must peacefully accept the results.
Throughout the Middle East, the fear of free
choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty. It is
time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard
work of democracy. There are those who say that democracy
is being imposed. In fact, the opposite is true: Democracy
is never imposed. It is tyranny that must be imposed.
People choose democracy freely. And successful
reform is always homegrown. Just look around the world today.
For the first time in history, more people are citizens of
democracies than of any other form of government. This is
the result of choice, not of coercion.
There are those who say that democracy leads
to chaos, or conflict, or terror. In fact, the opposite is
true: Freedom and democracy are the only ideas powerful enough
to overcome hatred, and division, and violence. For people
of diverse races and religions, the inclusive nature of democracy
can lift the fear of difference that some believe is a license
to kill. But people of goodwill must choose to embrace the
challenge of listening, and debating, and cooperating with
For neighboring countries with turbulent histories,
democracy can help to build trust and settle old disputes
with dignity. But leaders of vision and character must commit
themselves to the difficult work that nurtures the hope of
peace. And for all citizens with grievances, democracy can
be a path to lasting justice. But the democratic system cannot
function if certain groups have one foot in the realm of politics
and one foot in the camp of terror.
There are those who say that democracy destroys
social institution and erodes moral standards. In fact, the
opposite is true: The success of democracy depends on public
character and private virtue. For democracy to thrive, free
citizens must work every day to strengthen their families,
to care for their neighbors, and to support their communities.
There are those who say that long-term economic
and social progress can be achieved without free minds and
free markets. In fact, human potential and creativity are
only fully released when governments trust their people’s
decisions and invest in their people’s future. And the
key investment is in those people's education. Because education
-- for men and for women -- transforms their dreams into reality
and enables them to overcome poverty.
There are those who say that democracy is
for men alone. In fact, the opposite is true: Half a democracy
is not a democracy. As one Muslim woman leader has said, "Society
is like a bird. It has two wings. And a bird cannot fly if
one wing is broken." Across the Middle East, women are
inspiring us all.
In Kuwait, women protested to win their right
to vote, carrying signs that declared: "Women are Kuwaitis,
too." Last month, Kuwait’s legislature voiced its
agreement. In Saudi Arabia, the promise of dignity is awakening
in some young women. During the recent municipal elections,
I saw the image of a father who went to vote with his daughter.
Rather than cast his vote himself, he gave
the ballot to his daughter, and she placed it in the ballot
box. This small act of hope reveals one man’s dream
for his daughter. And he is not alone.
Ladies and Gentlemen: Across the Middle East
today, millions of citizens are voicing their aspirations
for liberty and for democracy. These men and women are expanding
boundaries in ways many thought impossible just one year ago.
They are demonstrating that all great moral
achievements begin with individuals who do not accept that
the reality of today must also be the reality of tomorrow.
There was a time, not long ago, after all,
when liberty was threatened by slavery.
The moral worth of my ancestors, it was thought,
should be valued by the demand of the market, not by the dignity
of their souls. This practice was sustained through violence.
But the crime of human slavery could not withstand the power
of human liberty. What seemed impossible in one century became
inevitable in the next.
There was a time, even more recently, when
liberty was threatened by colonialism. It was believed that
certain peoples required foreign masters to rule their lands
and run their lives. Like slavery, this ideology of injustice
was enforced through oppression.
But when brave people demanded their rights,
the truth that freedom is the destiny of every nation rang
true throughout the world. What seemed impossible in one decade
became inevitable in the next.
Today, liberty is threatened by undemocratic
governments. Some believe this is a permanent fact of history.
But there are others who know better. These impatient patriots
can be found in Baghdad and Beirut, in Riyadh and in Ramallah,
in Amman and in Tehran and right here in Cairo.
Together, they are defining a new standard
of justice for our time -- a standard that is clear, and powerful,
and inspiring: Liberty is the universal longing of every soul,
and democracy is the ideal path for every nation.
The day is coming when the promise of a fully
free and democratic world, once thought impossible, will also
seem inevitable. The people of Egypt should be at the forefront
of this great journey, just as you have led this region through
the great journeys of the past.
A hopeful future is within the reach of every
Egyptian citizen -- and every man and woman in the Middle
East. The choice is yours to make. But you are not alone.
All free nations are your allies. So together, let us choose
liberty and democracy -- for our nations, for our children,
and for our shared future.