(by Jon Ward, WashingtonTimes.com) – Days after a speech in Israel deemed by many in the Arab world to be unhelpfully pro-Israel, President Bush yesterday challenged Middle East leaders to stop repressing their people and to stand together against Iran.
Mr. Bush, speaking to 1,500 government and business leaders [at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East] in the Egyptian Red Sea coastal resort town of Sharm el Sheik, ended his five-day trip to the Middle East by drawing attention to the autocratic governments in the region and by rebuking critics of his democracy agenda as practicing a “condescending form of moral relativism.”
“The time has come for nations across the Middle East to abandon these practices, and treat their people with dignity and the respect they deserve,” Mr. Bush said. “I call on all nations to release their prisoners of conscience, open up their political debate and trust their people to chart their future.”
The reaction to that call was cool, with only scattered applause from the audience, which included Arab leaders such as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordan’s King Abdullah II.
Noting that democracy means more than holding elections, Mr. Bush said a “true democracy” includes multiple parties that are allowed to debate freely, robust civic institutions that “ensure an election’s legitimacy and hold leaders accountable” and elections in which opposition candidates are free from “fear and intimidation.”
“Too often in the Middle East, politics has consisted of one leader in power and the opposition in jail,” he said, likely a reference to Egypt. Secular opposition leader Ayman Nour has been imprisoned, a point that Mr. Bush raised in a private meeting with Mr. Mubarak, who has been in power since 1981.
Mr. Bush’s words on true democracy also included a clear reference to the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, which took power in the Gaza Strip in popular elections. The Islamist group calls for the destruction of Israel and the death of all Jews.
“All nations in the region must stand together in confronting Hamas, which is attempting to undermine efforts at peace with acts of terror and violence,” the president said.
Mr. Bush also singled out Iran as a threat.
“Every peaceful nation in the region has an interest in opposing Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions,” he said.
“To allow the world’s leading sponsor of terror to gain the world’s deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations,” Mr. Bush said to barely a ripple of reaction from the crowd.
Stephen J. Hadley, the president’s national security adviser, went further than the president in casting Iran as the major obstacle to peace in the Middle East. Mr. Hadley blamed Iran for fomenting violence in Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Iran stands behind what we see Hezbollah doing in Lebanon, what we see Hamas doing in the Palestinian territories, and what we see illegal Shia militia doing in Iraq,” Mr. Hadley told reporters in Egypt. “And increasingly, we see Iran’s hand in the struggle in Afghanistan.”
Mr. Hadley said Iran is “supporting terror and the killing of civilians as a tool to achieve political power” and that Mr. Bush had pressed leaders of all the leading Middle Eastern states to do more to stand against Iran.
Although not as positive as his 60th anniversary speech praising Israel to the Knesset, Mr. Bush’s address to the government and business leaders hailed democratic advances in countries such as Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Morocco and Jordan and said “the light of liberty is beginning to shine.”
Mr. Bush centered on the theme that Middle Eastern nations lag behind the developing world and cannot count on their oil wealth forever. He sought to convince Arab leaders that government, economic and social reforms will make the region “a center of progress and achievement,” but argued that the younger generation’s access to technology and information guarantees a democratic future.
He called on “Arab states, especially oil-rich nations, [to] seize this opportunity to invest aggressively in the Palestinian people and to move past their old resentments against Israel.”
On the plane back to the United States, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said this trip was “not the last time that the president is going to be with these leaders.” Mr. Hadley said the president may return to Israel if an agreement on the contours of a Palestinian state can be reached before January.
But prospects look grim, despite Mr. Bush’s repeated claim that he expects the two sides to reach a deal by the end of his term. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is under investigation for corruption, and the Palestinians are split between a Fatah-controlled West Bank and a Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
Miss Rice, however, said the current talks are “by far the most serious negotiations that Israelis and Palestinians have had on all the issues that would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state.”
Copyright 2008 News World Communications, Inc. Reprinted with permission of the Washington Times. This reprint does not constitute or imply any endorsement or sponsorship of any product, service, company or organization. Visit the website at www.washingtontimes.com.
1. To what group did President Bush give a speech in Egypt yesterday?
2. a) During his speech yesterday, what did the President call on all nations across the Middle East to do?
b) How did the audience react?
3. President Bush noted that democracy means more than holding elections. What did he say a true democracy includes?
4. What did President Bush call on Middle Eastern leaders to do about Hamas?
5. a) What did President Bush say about Iran?
b) What reaction did he receive from the audience for this declaration?
6. a) Who is Stephen Hadley?
b) What accusations did Mr. Hadley make against Iran?
7. What positive accomplishments made in the Middle East did President Bush point out during his speech?
8. What do you think of the President’s speech to Middle Eastern leaders?
Read President Bush’s entire speech at the World Economic Forum in Egypt at whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2008/05/20080518-6.html.
View photos from President Bush’s trip to the Middle East here.
Read the news from President Bush’s full trip to the Middle East May 13-18 at whitehouse.gov.
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