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Democracy Marches On

How would the universal adoption of democracy usher in a better future for all the world’s people?

July 4, 2005

How would the universal adoption of democracy usher in a better future for all the world's people?

As more of the world's people have woken up to their innate rights of liberty and freedom, democracy has emerged as the sole guarantor of these ideals. In this Globalist Document, drawn from her Cairo speech, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice argues that in order to protect freedom, democracy must be individually adapted by all the world's regions and cultures.

In our world today, a growing number of men and women are securing their liberty. And as these people gain the power to choose, they are creating democratic governments in order to protect their natural rights.

We should all look to a future when every government respects the will of its citizens — because the ideal of democracy is universal.

For 60 years, the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East — and we achieved neither.

Now, we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.

As President Bush said in his Second Inaugural Address, “America will not impose our style of government on the unwilling.

Our goal instead is to help others find their own voice, to attain their own freedom, and to make their own way.”

We know these advances will not come easily, or all at once. We know that different societies will find forms of democracy that work for them.

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.

Securing these rights is the hope of every citizen and the duty of every government. In the United States, the progress of democracy has been long and difficult. And given our history, we have no cause for false pride and we have every reason for humility.

After all, America was founded by individuals who knew that all human beings — and the governments they create — are inherently imperfect.

The United States was born half free and half slave. And it was only in my lifetime that my government guaranteed the right to vote for all of its people.

Nevertheless, the principles enshrined in our Constitution enable citizens of conviction to move America closer every day to the ideal of democracy.

Here in the Middle East, that same long hopeful process of democratic change is now beginning to unfold. Millions of people are demanding freedom for themselves and democracy for their countries.

Throughout the Middle East, the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty. It is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy.

There are those who say that democracy is being imposed. In fact, the opposite is true. Democracy is never imposed. It is tyranny that must be imposed. People choose democracy freely. And successful reform is always homegrown.

Just look around the world today. For the first time in history, more people are citizens of democracies than of any other form of government. This is the result of choice, not of coercion.

There are those who say that democracy leads to chaos, or conflict or terror. In fact, the opposite is true. Freedom and democracy are the only ideas powerful enough to overcome hatred, division and violence.

For people of diverse races and religions, the inclusive nature of democracy can lift the fear of difference that some believe is a license to kill. But people of goodwill must choose to embrace the challenge of listening, and debating, and cooperating with one another.

For neighboring countries with turbulent histories, democracy can help to build trust and settle old disputes with dignity. But leaders of vision and character must commit themselves to the difficult work that nurtures the hope of peace.

And for all citizens with grievances, democracy can be a path to lasting justice. But the democratic system cannot function if certain groups have one foot in the realm of politics and one foot in the camp of terror.

There are those who say that democracy destroys social institution and erodes moral standards. In fact, the opposite is true. The success of democracy depends on public character and private virtue.

For democracy to thrive, free citizens must work every day to strengthen their families, to care for their neighbors and to support their communities.

There are those who say that long-term economic and social progress can be achieved without free minds and free markets.

In fact, human potential and creativity are only fully released when governments trust their people's decisions and invest in their people's future.

And the key investment is in those people’s education. Because education — for men and for women — transforms their dreams into reality and enables them to overcome poverty.

There are those who say that democracy is for men alone. In fact, the opposite is true. Half a democracy is not a democracy.

As one Muslim woman leader has said, “Society is like a bird. It has two wings. And a bird cannot fly if one wing is broken.” Across the Middle East, women are inspiring us all.

In Kuwait, women protested to win their right to vote, carrying signs that declared, “Women are Kuwaitis, too.” Last month, Kuwait's legislature voiced its agreement.

In Saudi Arabia, the promise of dignity is awakening in some young women.

During the recent municipal elections, I saw the image of a father who went to vote with his daughter.

Rather than cast his vote himself, he gave the ballot to his daughter, and she placed it in the ballot box. This small act of hope reveals one man's dream for his daughter. And he is not alone.

Across the Middle East today, millions of citizens are voicing their aspirations for liberty and for democracy. These men and women are expanding boundaries in ways many thought impossible just one year ago.

They are demonstrating that all great moral achievements begin with individuals who do not accept that the reality of today must also be the reality of tomorrow.

There was a time, not long ago, after all, when liberty was threatened by slavery.

The moral worth of my ancestors, it was thought, should be valued by the demand of the market, not by the dignity of their souls.

This practice was sustained through violence. But the crime of human slavery could not withstand the power of human liberty.

What seemed impossible in one century became inevitable in the next.

There was a time, even more recently, when liberty was threatened by colonialism. It was believed that certain peoples required foreign masters to rule their lands and run their lives. Like slavery, this ideology of injustice was enforced through oppression.

But when brave people demanded their rights, the truth that freedom is the destiny of every nation rang true throughout the world. What seemed impossible in one decade became inevitable in the next.

Today, liberty is threatened by undemocratic governments. Some believe this is a permanent fact of history. But there are others who know better.

These impatient patriots can be found in Baghdad and Beirut, in Riyadh and in Ramallah, in Amman and in Tehran and in Cairo.

Together, they are defining a new standard of justice for our time — a standard that is clear, and powerful, and inspiring.

Liberty is the universal longing of every soul, and democracy is the ideal path for every nation.

The day is coming when the promise of a fully free and democratic world — once thought impossible — will also seem inevitable.

So together, let us choose liberty and democracy — for our nations, for our children, and for our shared future.

Adapted from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice’s Remarks at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, on June 20, 2005.