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Viewpoint: Democracy and the state of the world
 America’s first president, George Washington, delivered the first ever address detailing to Congress and, consequently to the American people, the state of the union, detailing his administration’s initiatives and accomplishments. Since then, this "annual message", later renamed the "State of the Union" address, has evolved into an expansive communiqué between the US administration, its a
Friday, February 3,2006 00:00
by Vivian Salama, the Daily Star

 America’s first president, George Washington, delivered the first ever address detailing to Congress and, consequently to the American people, the state of the union, detailing his administration’s initiatives and accomplishments. Since then, this "annual message", later renamed the "State of the Union" address, has evolved into an expansive communiqué between the US administration, its allies, and its enemies at home and abroad.

Dedicating the first half of his State of the Union speech on February 1 to the promotion of democracy, end of tyranny and rout of terrorist networks worldwide, US President George W. Bush firmly defended his policy on political and military intervention as the only way to ensure a safer tomorrow.

"The road of isolationism and protectionism may seem broad and inviting, yet it ends in danger and decline," he began. "The only way to protect our people, the only way to secure peace, the only way to control our destiny is by our leadership."

Bush singles out "radical Islam" as one of the main deterrents to freedom. It is from "safe havens", he explained, that these networks committed to the destruction of democracy plot their attacks against the West. For this reason, Bush stated, America must locate the root of the problem and tear out any bad weeds that look to corrupt or infect or destroy the well-being of those abroad.

Bush spoke extensively of America’s commitment to fostering democracy around the world. In 1945, he explained, merely two-dozen democracies existed, as compared to 122 today. A strong regional ally to the United States, Egypt was mentioned as an example twice during the address, with Bush hailing the country’s new understanding of the "necessity of freedom".

"The great people of Egypt have voted in a multiparty presidential election and now their government should open paths of peaceful opposition that will reduce the appeal of radicalism," Bush declared.

During her visit to Cairo, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice emphasized America’s wish to teach those who have a voice how to use it, and not what to say.

"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," Rice said in a speech at the American University in Cairo (AUC) last June. "Egypt’s elections, including the Parliamentary elections, must meet objective standards that define every free election."

For years, America has engaged in dialogue with Egypt looking to promote an electoral process in which there is legitimate opposition. Following 24 years of uncontested rule, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak chose to comply with America’s longtime appeal for democratic elections, proposing an amendment to the constitution. It was as good a time as any, given Bush’s democracy campaign in the region.

Egypt, which receives an annual $1.8 billion from the United States in economic and military aid, second only to Israel, ultimately faced the dilemma of rejecting America’s wishes or being a model for "Westernized" reform. It chose the latter.

Some US Democrats argue that Bush’s project for the promotion of democracy in the Middle East has backfired, resulting in major gains for Islamists who adamantly reject Western-style governance. Last December the world watched as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood made their biggest gains ever during parliamentary elections. The banned but tolerated group walked away with 88 of 144 elected seats, and many believe that they would have earned more were it not for obstructions and irregularities at polling stations.

In Palestine last week, Hamas, in its virgin run at organized politicking, won an unprecedented 74 of 132 seats in the territory’s first parliamentary election in a decade. Washington had previously expressed its opposition to dealing with terrorist organizations. Hamas, famed for its militant activity and anti-Israeli rhetoric, has denied intentions to negotiate with Israel, although Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has reaffirmed his commitment to the American-brokered road map for peace.

Quite the predicament. President Bush and his administration face the quandary of contradicting the message that would essentially define their legacy and jeopardize their credibility in a region where their reputation remains volatile.

Arabs across the Middle East are, are Bush explained, "marking their liberty with purple ink". But what happens when the markings do not show up quite how Bush envisioned? Washington must tread cautiously in the coming months as a new breed of politicians take office across the region. If America is responsible for giving Arab voters a voice, then maybe it should sit back and listen to what they have to say before reacting.

Vivian Salama is a senior correspondent for the Daily Star Egypt, based in Cairo. She also contributes to BBC World, Associated Press Television, Newsweek and the International Herald Tribune on subjects relating to Arab politics and culture


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