October 5th, 2006 06:59 EST
Democracy Discussion With Print Media
SECRETARY RICE: Well, thank you. I will say just a few words because I would like to take the maximum time to take your questions and talk about whatever is on your mind. Well, the United States and Egypt have a long and important strategic relationship. I think it is a relationship that can be characterized as one of friendship and cooperation. And in a relationship of friendship it is possible to talk about the entire range of issues before our countries and it is in that spirit that we have talked, especially since the President's Second Inaugural Address, about the importance of reform and democracy in the Middle East and in Egypt, which as probably the most important country culturally in the region can lead the movement toward democracy and liberty.
The President believes and I believe that every man, woman and child deserves to live in freedom, deserves to think and worship freely, and to educate boys and girls; that those are, as the President has called them, the non-negotiable demands of human dignity. Democracy is not something that belongs to America or is for America to impose abroad. And certainly democracy will look -- will take on different cultural tones, different forms, in every single country on earth.
The United States wants to support those who are trying to reform and trying to change their countries, and we do so in a spirit of friendship and respect for Egypt's long history and for Egypt's culture.
Thank you. Shall we start with questions?
QUESTION: Well, there is an impression that democracy is no longer on the top of the agenda list of the United States in terms of its activities in the Middle East and there is also a belief that this trip here, it's not designed in order to promote democracy but in order to establish an alliance, a security alliance, against Iran in the region. What are your comments?
SECRETARY RICE: First, I think it's important to understand that the President believes and I believe that our strategic interests and our interests in democracy are one and the same. We seek to help support the development of a Middle East that is indeed peaceful, in which longstanding conflicts like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in a larger sense the Arab-Israeli conflict can be resolved.
But a part of getting to that peaceful Middle East and one that can be truly stable is that there needs to be at the same time a move toward the development of moderate democratic states in the Middle East. So we need to support the development of a democratic Palestinian state, but one that can live side by side with its democratic Israeli neighbor. We need to support the democratic state of Lebanon which is finally, after more than 30 years, free of foreign forces. It should also be free of foreign influences. And in places where a bloody dictator like Saddam Hussein has been overthrown, we are supporting the development of a democratic national unity government in Iraq.
At the same time, as the President has said, we expect reform and democratization to take place also among our friends, which is why here in Egypt last year I gave a speech at the -- in Cairo, here in Cairo at AUC, talking about the importance of Egypt, with its great cultural and historic and symbolic significance, actually leading the democratic developments in the region.
In the discussions I've just had in Saudi Arabia, we had an extensive discussion of how reform might proceed in Saudi Arabia. Because we believe that a democratic, modernizing, moderate Middle East is the best chance for peace in this region, it is the best chance for true stability in this region, and it is the only way -- democratic institutions are the only way that people who have differences resolve those differences peacefully. The only other alternative is to resolve differences by repression and violence, and this region has had too much of both. And so the development of democratic institutions which can facilitate the overcoming of difference is extremely important.
And if I may say just one other thing, the United States has every reason to be humble about the development of democracy. When our democracy was founded, in our first Constitution my ancestors were declared three-fifths of a man. It was in my lifetime that in the American South where I was born that black Americans were finally guaranteed the right to vote freely. And I'm not that old.
And so we know that democracy and its development is difficult. It's sometimes uneven. It certainly has progress and then sometimes things will move backward. But the important thing is to keep pushing forward on a democratic path because it really is the only way that a state can be truly modern and truly peaceful.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, you've talked about a variety of examples regarding the U.S. policies. You talked about Lebanon. You talked the Arab-Israeli conflict. You talked about Iraq. But, however, having said all of this, the image of the United States among the Arabs, among the public in general, it is not the same image. There is a feeling that there is an aggressive U.S. views towards the Arabs. There is an uneven-handed approach. They do not understand the American policies. There is a feeling among the public, among the people, the ordinary people on the streets, that the United States is anti-Arab and anti-Muslims. People watch and see all the images of the Israeli invasions. They see the bloody images of Iraq. They see the delay in forming the democracy in Iraq which was supposed to be an example of the new democracies in the Middle East. This destruction and very gruesome and aggressive Israeli attack on Lebanon and the Lebanese territories.
All of this hits at the heart of the American project or the American proposal in the region. These are the views among the public. At the end of the day, democracy is a political way that will be practiced by the people, through their institutions, will be able to govern themselves. So there is no faith in that democracy and the American proposal as it's being presented to the region. Therefore, I don't believe that this particular project in the Middle East is receiving the positive reaction from the public. Even those who are trying to build their own democracies by calling for democratic reforms, constitutional reforms, all of this are unable to see that the American role is positive and it's in their -- it's supporting of their activities.
QUESTION: Well, first of all, I understand exactly what you've said. I know this. And it's troubling to me because the United States, I think for most of its history, certainly since World War II, has generally been involved in the world on behalf of values. The United States sits, in effect, as a country with great oceans surrounding it and there have always been many in my country who thought we should just remain isolated from the world; we can protect ourselves.
But I think we realized that we were actually safest when we were in an international system with a growing number of democratic allies and so we advocated for and supported the growth of democracy in Europe, in Asia, in Latin America, even in Africa. But I think it's fair to say that we did not for many years advocate very strongly for democracy in the Middle East. We talked only about stability. And so I understand that there may be some continuing suspicion that the United States is not seriously committed to the development of democratic states in the Middle East.
I also know that even though American Presidents have tried and tried, that the inability to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict continues to color the views of the region about American policy. Israel is America's friend. But so is Egypt and so is Jordan. And America was very active in helping Jordan and Egypt come to peace with Israel. And I think everyone is better off for those peace treaties. You can be assured that President Bush would like nothing better than to bring a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is why he was the first American President to make it a matter of policy that there should be two states living side by side, a Palestinian state and an Israeli state.
And we are working even today to try and support Mahmoud Abbas, who I think is a man of peace. We hope to encourage better relations and indeed direct talks between Prime Minister Olmert and President Abbas and to improve the daily lives of the Palestinian people because the Palestinian people should not have to suffer the humiliations that they suffer that are associated with the occupation. And the Palestinian people are wonderful people who are entrepreneurial and modern and many of them well educated. When we can find a way to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, I think the state of Palestine is going to be a very special place.
And let me say just one word about Iraq because I know that it is a very violent and difficult situation in Iraq. I have been to Iraq four times. It is a place where people are trying -- the great majority of Iraqis and their leadership, their democratically elected leadership -- are trying to find a way to overcome differences that have existed but were repressed for very long periods of time.
They want to be one Iraq. They have now democratic institutions that amazingly in about three years they have had these democratic institutions emerge. They have had two elections, including one in which 12.5 million people, 12.5 million people, went out and voted, despite the threats of terrorists to kill them if they voted. They have an active press where any and every thing is debated and a parliament where any and every thing is debated. They have political parties that span the entire range of political opinion.
Unfortunately, they also have determined enemies, terrorists who will kill innocent Iraqis rather than join the political process. But Prime Minister Maliki announced a national reconciliation plan. I think that most Iraqis will be drawn to that plan and the United States is there only to help the Iraqis to build their security forces and their democracy. When we have done that, we can leave with the honor that our soldiers deserve and we believe that we will have in Iraq a democratic ally, one that fights terrorism and one that will be very good for its neighbors. Because unlike Saddam Hussein, this will not be an Iraq that seeks weapons of mass destruction, invades its neighbors and threatens its own people.
QUESTION: I think the fundamental question that it seems like the Administration on one hand the public in the Arab world and the various groups within the Arab societies, both are speaking two different languages. There is a state of hatred that exists in the Arab street. You mentioned, Madame Secretary, that the Administration believes that democracy would lead to stability and you referred to the early policies of only stability and not democracy.
But I think that the ordinary Arab citizen -- I'm not here referring only necessarily to Egyptian citizens -- believes that the current U.S. policies is really increasing the instability of the region. You talked about various examples. Iraq, we see what's happening there and the attempts to establish democracy. But what we see on a daily basis is basically the equivalent of a civil war that's taking place in that country and any attempts to achieve progress on the Palestinian-Israeli issues, for example, you talked about both President Abbas as well as Prime Minister Olmert, both of them are really weak internally, both through the Palestinian Authority, President Abbas, and Prime Minister Olmert in Tel Aviv, both of them internally are weak, internally are not prepared or not capable of doing any additional compromises or to reach solutions.
You talked about Lebanon and, frankly, it looks like what happened in Lebanon introduced a deep view, a deeply rooted idea of instability. The war in Lebanon led to more instability. But much more important than that, it made the United States a part of the conflict. I am really concerned that the U.S. image today is much worse among the Arab public than the previous early days of the conflict back in 1967, back in 1973. At that time the United States was playing a role of an honest broker, trying to mediate between the conflicting parties. But now we see that the United States is a tangible party to the conflict itself. We see this tangibility through the physical occupation of Iraq. Therefore some people believe that the American call for reform and democracy only aims at one thing, which is applying additional pressure and I believe this additional pressure will not be in the interest of the United States or its partners in the region.
The purpose of the pressure, the way some people see it, is that in order to make those countries in the Middle East much more cooperative in a positive way, going along with the United States when it comes to its own policies in Iraq, the Palestinian areas and in the region (inaudible).
SECRETARY RICE: Well, let me talk about the difficult and rather challenging circumstances that we find first in the region. I think there's no doubt that whether it is in Lebanon or Iraq or in the Palestinian territories we're seeing a very challenging time with violence and with a sense of instability.
But what was there in each of those places before this period?
In Iraq, a brutal dictator who killed 300,000 Iraqis and put them in mass graves, who invaded his neighbor, who killed a million people in the Iran-Iraq conflict. I know the Iraqi people have great difficulties right now and the United States is sacrificing. We are there not in occupation. We are there to support Iraqi democracy so that Iraqis can take over. We will be very, very pleased to leave, I can assure you, but we don't want to leave until Iraqis are able to secure themselves. So the Iraqi people are in transition to a new system. I think it's far better for them and for the region than what they had.
What was there in Lebanon? Syrian occupation. Syrian intimidation. And ultimately what caused the revolution, the assassination of the popular Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri. You had a situation in which Hezbollah controlled the south of the country and therefore launched an attack against Israel without the knowledge of the Lebanese Government, plunging the country into war. So this was not stability either. And so the Lebanese people are in a transition to a stable, democratic state for all Lebanese and where the Lebanese Government is finally extending its authority throughout the country.
And finally, what was there in the Palestinian territories? The leadership of the Palestinian Authority before Mahmoud Abbas left, unfortunately, a legacy of corruption and connections to terrorism, left dozens of security forces that were just the personal security forces of individuals, and unfortunately left a legacy in which despite very great efforts by the Clinton Administration in 2000, the Palestinians were unable to accept what I think would have been a very good peace arrangement. And instead the second intifadah began and that brought to power an Israeli government that was determined to fight terrorism by force.
But a lot has happened since and we have now a Prime Minister in Israel who says that he wants to negotiate a peace, a President in the Palestinian territories who says he wants to negotiate a peace. Yes, there are weaknesses on both sides, but if the international community -- and not just the United States, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Gulf states -- can get together and support this process of the coming together of these two, I believe we can make real progress. And that is one of the reasons that I believe the meeting today of the Gulf Cooperation Council plus two is so important is to say to Olmert and to Abbas you have the support of the moderate Arab states and of the United States.
If I might just say one final thing. I know and I hear that the United States is somehow against Islam or people even say you're fighting a war against Islam. It is extremely important that everyone understand how much Islam is respected in the United States as a great religion. Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the United States itself and the people of the United States who practice Islam, the Islamic faith, are respected. They live in neighborhoods everywhere. They are thoroughly and completely American. And the United States could not possibly lack respect for a religion which is so important to the United States itself among our own people.
So, it is because of our respect for Islam that we do not believe that the violent people who blow up innocent civilians, children, people standing at a bus stop, children in a kindergarten in a school in Russia, that these people represent Islam. These people couldn't possibly represent Islam because Islam is a peaceful religion.
And it is also because we respect Islam that we fully believe that there is no contradiction between Islam and democracy. It will be up to different countries and different cultures to work out the relationship of politics to religion. It will be up to different cultures and different countries to work out social norms in democracies. It will be up to different cultures and different countries to work out precisely what form democracy will take.
But I really do believe deeply that every human being wants to be able to have a say in the selection of those who will govern them, wants to be able to express freely his conscience or his thoughts, wants to be able to educate his children, his boys and his girls, wants to be able to worship freely, wants to be able to be represented by a free press that can bring issues before the government and hold the government accountable.
I think that no one wants to be subject to the arbitrary power of the state, and democracy is really at its very root about that, that the state should not have arbitrary power over its citizens. In fact, it is the other way around: The state governs with the consent of the people.
That basic idea is very old and I think very deep in human beings. There is no reason that it cannot be practiced in Islam. There is no reason that it cannot be practiced in the Middle East. And there is certainly every reason that it can be and will be fully practiced in Egypt because this is a great culture and a great people.