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Wednesday 22 May 2019

Bush states case for Middle East democracy

Roland WatsonWashington

A CALL by President Bush for Middle East and Gulf states to transform themselves into democracies drew a sceptical response yesterday.

Mr Bush challenged US allies such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, and foes including Iran and Syria, to embrace democratic reforms as part of a global revolution against tyranny.

He conceded that the US had shared responsibility for propping up Middle East despots for decades, but said the threat of terrorist violence emanating from the region made it reckless to continue to accept the status quo.

"Sixty years of Western nations excusing and accommodating the lack of freedom in the Middle East did nothing to make us safe, because in the long run stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty," he said.

"As long as the Middle East remains a place where freedom does not flourish, it will remain a place of stagnation, resentment and violence ready for export."

Palestinian cabinet minister, Saeb Erekat, urged Mr Bush to back up his vision by helping Palestinians to hold presidential and local elections. "We've been trying to hold these elections for a long time, but have failed due to the Israeli occupation."

Abdel-Monem Said, director of Egypt's al-Ahram Centre for Policy Strategic Studies, said the Iraq war had tarnished Mr Bush's call for principled reform. "Democracy is all about legalities, rule of law and legitimacy," he added.

"There is an issue of double standards."

One key aim of Mr Bush's speech was to paint the rebuilding of Iraq in moral terms at a time when domestic support for his post-war efforts is fading fast.

Meanwhile, the US has closed its embassy in the Saudi Arabian capital Riyadh because of terror threats that may include chemical or biological weapons attacks.

An announcement said the embassy "continues to receive credible information that terrorists in Saudi Arabia have moved from the planning to operational phase of planned attacks in the Kingdom". (©The Times, London)

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