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Condoleezza Rice's Speech in Cairo

Aired June 20, 2005 - 23:00:00   ET


JONATHAN MANN, CNN ANCHOR (voice-over): In the capital of the Arab world, Condoleezza Rice signals the end of an era for U.S. allies.

CONDOLEEZZA RICE, U.S. SECRETARY OF STATE: 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.

MANN: Just how far will the United States push friendly nations in an unfriendly part of the world?


Hello and welcome.

Call it the obvious paradox of U.S. foreign policy. Some people have called it a lot worse. A country that boasts that it's a beacon of democracy has found common cause with some of the world's most infamous dictators. But Monday U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice acknowledged the paradox, admitted it was a problem, and promised something knew.

She explicitly singled out states friendly to the United States, like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, along with unfriendly ones, and pointedly pressed all of them for democratic reform.

On our program today, allies on the receiving end.

CNN's Ben Wedeman begins our look.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): She arrived bearing a message not likely to please her Egyptian hosts. Meeting with long-ruling President Hosni Mubarak, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice came to press the Bush administration's campaign for democratic reform in a region where dictatorship rules.

She unleashed her public fire on an audience at the American University in Cairo. There she went down a list of what she views as basic obligations every government has towards its citizens.

RICE: 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.

WEDEMAN: Political activists in Egypt and elsewhere in the region know well the sound of that midnight knock, and according to human rights groups are no strangers to beatings, torture and intimidation.

In May, dozens of pro-democracy protesters in Cairo were attacked by a mob of Mubarak supporters. Several women demonstrators were sexually molested while police looked on passively.

RICE: 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 replaced arbitrary justice.

WEDEMAN: Rice also insisted that international monitors and observers be allowed access to Egyptian presidential and parliamentary elections later this year.

After the address, one member of the ruling party suggested the secretary was going too far --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I thought the president or the parliamentary election is our business.

WEDEMAN: -- while another listener wondered how the Americans had become the advocates of Arab democracy.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: In what she said, I think there was a minute there, like, wait a minute, this is our dream. This should be our dream. This should not be the U.S.'s dream.

WEDEMAN: Before leaving Cairo, Rice met with Egyptian civil society leaders, but though invited many opposition figures stayed away, anxious not to be seen as too close to the Americans.

(on camera): The Bush administration is walking a fine line here. If it pushes too hard for democracy, there could be a backlash against perceived foreign meddling, but if it doesn't push hard enough dictators may conclude the pro-democracy movement in the Arab world is just a passing fad and could be crushed as soon as Washington loses interest.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Cairo.


MANN: Rice calls the Bush administration's approach transformative diplomacy, foreign policy that doesn't simply aim to manage relations or settle disputes with other countries but aims to change other countries in very basic ways. Egypt is one, as we've mentioned, and the U.S. secretary of state also called for political reform in Syria, Iran and Saudi Arabia.


RICE: 179 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 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 denied 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 towards 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.


MANN: Condoleezza Rice speaking in Cairo earlier today.

We take a break. When we come back, the diplomatic power of that message.

Stay with us.



MANN (voice-over): A surprising outcome to the first round of Iran's presidential election. Three candidates publicly complain of fraud.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): One special group had total control of the election, which means the Guardian Council and some revolutionary guards and mobilized forces were controlling the elections. Enjoying support of some media and newspapers, they're exerting their influence. This election was not normal at all.


MANN: Welcome back.

The Guardian Council in fact ordered a very partial recount and concluded that there was no ballot rigging. That means that this Friday's runoff will go ahead as schedule.

Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani will face the conservative mayor of Tehran, Mahmoud Ahmadinezhad, who did not show up as a frontrunner in any pre-election polls.

As we heard, U.S. Secretary of State Rice criticized Iran's election and that country's theocratic government.

Joining us now to talk about Rice's speech is Edward Walker, president of the Middle East Institute and a former U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Mr. Ambassador, thanks so much for being with us.

It's not that unusual to hear a U.S. secretary of state upbraiding the Iranians. How much more unusual, how much more important do you think it might be, what she had to say on this day in Cairo, about Egypt?

EDWARD WALKER, MIDDLE EAST INSTITUTE: I think it was a very important thing for her to say. It's not exactly something we've been saying over a long period of time, and I've been involved with it for a long time.

It was important partly because of the fact that she was able to say it. I mean, the Egyptians could have found many different ways and excuses for her not to give that talk, but they didn't, and so it's an indication of some acceptance on the part of the Egyptians or the Egyptian government, that it really does need to pay attention to this message, and I hope it has a profound effect in some of the other parts of the Middle East.

MANN: Now, this didn't come out of the blue, but when you look broadly at the Bush administration policy for Egypt, for Saudi Arabia, how much of a break is it with U.S. traditional foreign policy?

WALKER: Well, traditional foreign policy, we've emphasized in other administrations democracy, but it's generally been emphasized in Africa or in Latin America, other parts of the world, not in the Middle East. The Middle East was always something of a prisoner of the Israel-Palestine issue. We needed the support of the Egyptians and others, Saudis and so on, in that issue. It's been a prisoner particularly of the war on terrorism, because we really needed the support of those countries for that war.

So this is a break, to publicly come out and talk about democracy. Now, it can have two effects. I mean, it can certainly encourage those who want to see democracy come to the region, but it can also get peoples' backs up, that the United States is pushing on an issue which many people in the region feel is their own business.

MANN: So it could really backfire. Let me ask you about something that you alluded to first, though, which is that these are allies that the United States has needed for very important reasons. How real, how profound, can the U.S. push for democracy be in Egypt when Washington wants Cairo's help with the war on terror and with the Middle East peace process? How much can Washington push Saudi Arabia when oil is at $58 a barrel?

WALKER: Well, it's not just oil. It's also the war on terrorism with the Saudis. It can push the way it's been pushing, but always making the point that these are -- democracy is something that's got to come from within. It's not something that we can impose on people. They've got to find their own way towards democracy.

We can encourage, we can reward, we can push a bit, but in the final analysis, it's going to be the Egyptians, the government of Egypt, the government of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi people, that are going to make this thing work, and what I've seen in the evidence so far is they're interested in moving forward. They realize they can't stay still in this world.

MANN: Is Washington still open to the accusation of double standards? It will give a speech -- Condy Rice will give a speech like this in Cairo, but wouldn't give a speech like this in Islamabad, because Pakistan is now itself too important to risk, Uzbekistan may be too important to risk. Other countries retain the status that Egypt and Saudi Arabia used to have.

WALKER: Yes, except that I don't know that that's really the consideration. I think the fact is that you can say this in Egypt and it's not going to upset the applecart. The Egyptians have been saying many of the same things in their own forum. The Alexandria conference, for example, which Mubarak participated in, had a very forthcoming discussion of democracy and its development in Egypt. And even the Saudi Arabians, you're getting some real movement in this direction.

So I think it depends on where you are as to whether you can deal with this issue and still maintain the support on the Palestinian issue, support for our troops in Iraq and the war on terrorism.

MANN: Well, let me ask you about that in the Egyptian context. If there were real and thorough democracy in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood might end up running that country. Is the Bush administration really ready to countenance that kind of democracy in that country?

WALKER: Well, I think democracy is something that has to develop over time. I think if you had a vote tomorrow, you wouldn't have a peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. You've got to think about how you prepare an electorate in order to take advantage of democracy. It's not something where you just have a vote and suddenly you change horses in midstream. It's a fact of developing the civil society. It's a fact of developing people's responsibility, understanding what democracy is, so that it doesn't become one vote, one man, one time.

And it leads to a much solider base for any government that comes into power, but a base hopefully which will at that point be friendly towards the United States.

MANN: Ambassador Edward Walker, thank you so much for talking with us.

WALKER: You bet.

MANN: We take a break. When we come back, a case in point, democracy at work in Lebanon. The anti-Syrian alliance wins a majority.

Stay with us.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): This is a tsunami of a different kind. This is great. God willing, it won't be a sectarian process.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): The commitment of the Lebanese forces is to go on with all the allies, hand in hand for the construction of a new Lebanon, the real Lebanon, the Lebanon of reconciliation and reform, Muslims and Christians, because it is high time that we put an end to the remaining war and start moving towards freedom, serenity and progress.



MANN: An independent Lebanon, a landslide win. Voters offer the anti-Syrian alliance a chance to govern and its leading figure reaches out for even broader support.

Welcome back.

In some parts of the Arab world, there is fear about what democracy might bring. Governments run by extremists, bent on radical Islam and war with the West, or sectarian conflict between rival peoples forced to live together too long under dictatorship.

Lebanon could have been an example of one or both. After a month-long election process, though, it didn't turn out that way.

CNN's Brent Sadler, our Beirut bureau chief, reports.


BRENT SADLER, CNN BEIRUT BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Breaking new political ground. Saud Hariri, the head of an opposition alliance that's won an outright majority in the next Lebanese parliament, ending a decade- and-a-half of Syrian domination.

Supporters of the multi-religious alliance pouring on to the streets of Tripoli in north Lebanon. But the electoral cheerleading came under ferocious attack from a former opposition ally turned bitter opponent, Maronite Catholic leader and former army commander General Michel Aoun, exiled by the Syrians until his recent return, accusing the 35-year-old political newcomer of using family wealth to buy votes, discrediting the election.

GEN. MICHEL AOUN, FREE PATRIOTIC MOVEMENT: We cannot corroborate with people, they don't have the minimum of morality (INAUDIBLE).

SADLER: International monitors identified some electoral irregularities, but not enough to taint to outcome of what they described as a well-managed election.

SAUD HARIRI, FUTURE MOVEMENT: We will not be responsible for closing doors. Our door is always open. We will extend our hands. We will talk to everyone. And we will try to convince them that this is a national reconciliation, this is what the country needs.

SADLER: An olive branch to all parties, he says, notably pro-Syrian Muslim politicians, including Hezbollah.

(on camera): It may be an impressive opposition victory in their campaign to overcome Syrian control of Lebanon, but whoever actually sits in the prime minister's office, just behind me, can expect a rough ride ahead.

(voice-over): Especially on disarming Hezbollah to comply with unrelenting U.S.-led international demands.

HARIRI: I really ask everyone to give us a break. We will sit and stabilize ourselves, our internal security, our internal stability, our economy, and we will talk to everyone. Our intentions are good. I hope everybody's intentions are good.

SADLER: Saud Hariri claims his father was killed for intending to deliver the kind of historic political change now underway, wishing he could see it.

HARIRI: My emotions are mixed. Some of them are of happiness, some of real shattered sadness. I mean, I would have loved to see my father in this chair talking to you.

SADLER: A burden that during this moment of reflection is too much to bear.

Brent Sadler, CNN, Beirut.


MANN: Joining us now to talk about the election and its influence in the region is a familiar guest, Hisham Melhem, Washington bureau chief of "An-Nahar" and a broadcaster with a fine program of his own an Al-Arabiya television.

Good to see you again.

HISHAM MELHEM, "AN-NAHAR": Thank you, Jon.

MANN: What do you think about the election result?

MELHEM: Well, the elections, unfortunately, showed the persistence of sectarian divisions, clannish loyalties and the persistence of what we call in Lebanon the Zion phenomenon, the phenomenon of the one leader who speaks, or claims to speak for his sect or his group or his region or family or feudal family. Many old faces will return. Many old faces also will either bow out or were defeated. Most of them were pro-Syria.

We have a new majority now. We're not sure whether this majority, which is led by Saud Hariri, the son of slain Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and his allies, religious block and others, will have enough votes to change the constitution, to determine the fate of President Lahoud, who is seen by a large number of Lebanese as a Syrian vessel.

So it is not a perfect election. It was marred by, as I said, this sectarian discourse. There is a great deal of frustration, especially among the youth. Those man and women, young man and women who manned the streets so to speak in March and April under one banner, one flag, hoping to transcend these sectarian divisions. Many of these youth in Lebanon are very frustrated with the results.

But as you have seen from the pictures, this is Lebanon. The process is loud, it's colorful, and it's fraught with all sorts of possibilities and dangers.

MANN: Is Saud Hariri a strong man around whom a strong government can take shape?

MELHEM: I think Saud Hariri is still green politically, to put it mildly. He does not have the kind of political experience that one would expect in a leader who will be in charge of a country that is fractured such as Lebanon today.

I think his allies are counseling him not to run, not to become prime minister at the age of 35, and I think that he will probably not be the next prime minister. We would have to wait and see how the alliances play out, what kind of majority he will have. I mean, the immediate challenges are to elect a new speaker of the parliament and then form a government. And then beyond that, if you think that these are not tough tests, beyond that what to do with the president and also what to do with Hezbollah's military wing, which is going to be a major issue that the new government is going to face whether they like it or not, because the United Nations is going to raise the issue, the United States is going to raise the issue. So there are many issues, many challenges ahead for the new prime minister of Lebanon, and I'm not sure Saud Hariri is willing to take that plunge.

MANN: Is this, though, going to be normal politics? I ask that question because some people feared and the Syrians suggested that without them there this would turn into civil war. Some people thought Hezbollah is going to make stunning advances and take over the country. It sounds like what you're saying is very serious, but essentially surmountable.

MELHEM: Oh, no. Nobody is talking about a civil war. Nobody wants to drag the country back to those dark days. I think the Syrians also maintain or claim that their presence creates stability, but their presence created instability during most of their presence in Lebanon. This is really an excuse that nobody buys in Lebanon and nobody should buy outside Lebanon.

Definitely we have a problem with the political class. We have an entrenched political class that is not necessarily that democratic, that is futile in nature, unfortunately, and where people inherit power. We have people who run in elections because of who they are, not because of their political programs. But I don't think the country is on the verge of civil war, although there is a great deal of tension, although we've seen this, you know, revival, if you will, of sectarianism.

But the Lebanese should sort it out themselves.

MANN: Do you think they will end up inspiring others in the Arab world, the way some people believe the Palestinians have inspired others in the Arab world? That a successful election, one more successful election this time in Beirut, moves the process forward region-wide?

MELHEM: Although these elections were not perfect, definitely the phenomenon that led to these elections, the demonstrations in March and in April, were admired and watched heavily by Arabs outside Lebanon, by millions and millions, because those demonstrators in Lebanon turned Beirut into an electronic town hall meeting, if you will, in which there was serious debates about reform, accountability, empowerment, and Arabs outside Lebanon who are deprived of these rights, were watching with awe what has taken place in the streets of Lebanon.

So in the sense one should not belittle what happened in Lebanon, although these elections are not perfect. But Lebanon as always inspired the rest of the Arab world. We have the oldest constitution in the Middle East, we have the oldest parliament in the Middle East. We have 150 years of publishing. Lebanon was the publishing house of the Arab world.

This is the trendsetter when it came to cultural trends, political trends. So although we have a long way to go to go back to those days and regain those days in Lebanon, but definitely today the Lebanese political class, the Lebanese people, now that the Syrians are out, cannot blame the Syrians or the outside world for their shortcomings, and now they have to deal with the real problems that are facing them. Social problems, economic problems, political problems.

I'm not sure that most of the political class is willing to face these problems head on, but I hope that there will be popular pressure on them to do so.

MANN: Hisham Melhem, of "An-Nahar," thanks so much for this.

MELHEM: Thank you.

MANN: And that's our program for this day. I'm Jonathan Mann. The news continues.



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