Bush asks Egypt to lead the way for Mideast democratic reforms

Friday, November 7, 2003

The United States has been encouraged by Saudi Arabia's efforts to hold elections, but appears unsatisfied with Egypt's policy on democracy.

The U.S. scorecard was outlined by President George Bush in a review of democracy in the Middle East. In his presentation, Bush scored Egypt, Iran, the Palestinian Authority and Syria for taking insufficient steps toward democracy.

"The great and proud nation of Egypt has shown the way toward peace in the Middle East, and now should show the way toward democracy in the Middle East," Bush said on Thursday. "Champions of democracy in the region understand that democracy is not perfect. It is not the path to utopia. But it's the only path to national success and dignity."

Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. Cairo receives annually $1.3 billion in military aid and about $655 million in civilian aid, Middle East Newsline reported.

U.S. officials said the administration's criticism of Egypt would not result in reduced civilian or military aid to Cairo. They said U.S. aid to Cairo has been based on its commitment toward the peace treaty with Israel, signed in 1979.

On Sunday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage arrives in Cairo to discuss bilateral relations as well as Washington's request to help the U.S.-led coalition. Officials said the United States plans to ask Egypt to begin training of Iraqi police and security officers.

In an address to the National Endowment for Democracy, Bush, in remarks later welcomed by Saudi officials, appeared heartened by Saudi Arabia's steps toward elections. The kingdom has announced plans to hold municipal elections as well as revise its educational curriculum.

"The Saudi government is taking first steps toward reform, including a plan for gradual introduction of elections," Bush said. "By giving the Saudi people a greater role in their own society, the Saudi government can demonstrate true leadership in the region."

Bush did not refer to violations reported by the United States in human rights and religious freedom. Officials said the State Department has been considering deeming Riyad as a "country of particular concern" regarding the violation of religious freedom, a move that could result in U.S. sanctions on the kingdom.

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