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Rice Q&A at the American University in Cairo

Question and Answer at the American University in Cairo

Secretary Condoleezza Rice
Cairo, Egypt
June 20, 2005

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. I'm happy to take a few questions. There's one right down in front, if you'll come down. He's going to bring you a microphone, sir.

QUESTION: Mrs. Secretary, I would like to join everybody here to welcome you and we appreciate very much most of the ideas you are carrying to the region. You have said in a previous statement a few weeks ago, and you have repeated today, that most of the regimes of the Middle East has decided, in the past, to deprive their people from freedom in the sake of stability and the output was neither freedom nor stability. I quite agree with you on that. But don't you feel, Your Excellency, that the Arab-Israeli conflict in itself was an excuse for this regime to put more pressure on their people and to take it as a raison d'etre of the way they are ruling and whenever peace will prevail in the region, it will be a way to reform. I'm not saying that peace is a condition for reform, but I feel that it will give a big push to the peoples of the region to ask the regimes to stop the way they are ruling such countries. I would like to thank you again for the good words you directed to my great country. Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. Thank you very much.

(Applause.)

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, I think we have much work to do in the Middle East. We have the work of reform. You have much work to do in the Middle East, the work of reform. We have the work, of course, to do with the Palestinians and Israelis. The day that there is a democratic Palestine living side by side in peace with a democratic Israel is going to be a day that this region clearly has a new sense of hope and a new sense of unity. And so, of course, we need to work each and every day toward the resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

I can just say I was just in Israel and in the Palestinian territories and I found that the leaders there are very conscious of the special nature of this moment, that the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza can be a first step. And I want to say very clearly, Gaza -- it cannot be Gaza only. And we have said this to the Israelis and I think you heard Prime Minister Sharon say yesterday that this can reenergize the roadmap. And so we look for the Gaza withdrawal to be successful. We're working very hard with the parties on that. That means peaceful and orderly. And then to use the momentum and the trust and the confidence that will have been built over that period to possibly even accelerate our progress on the roadmap, which is, after all, the reliable guide to an independent Palestinian state. And President Bush, who was the first American President to make it policy that there should be a Palestinian state, and a democratic Palestinian state, is very personally devoted to using this moment of opportunity. Thank you.

(Applause.)

SECRETARY RICE: Oh, I have to call on people. This is hard. Right there on the aisle.

QUESTION: Your Excellency, have there been any sort of contacts between your Administration and the Muslim Brotherhood here in Egypt? Because there are some conflicting reports about that. And did you discuss with the President the assaults that happened against the demonstrators on the day of the referendum?

SECRETARY RICE: Yes, thank you. On the second point, we have indeed discussed with the Egyptian Government what happened on that day and the need to make certain that people can associate and can peacefully petition, because that was a very sad incident from the point of view, I think, of Egyptian reform and we've made that very clear.

We have not had contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood. Our goal here is to encourage the Egyptian Government, within its own laws and hopefully within a process and a context that is ever more reforming, to engage with civil society, with the people of Egypt for elections that can be free and fair. But we have not engaged the Muslim Brotherhood and we don't -- we won't.

Okay, I'll take one on this side. There's a lady standing right next -- sitting right next to you. Yes.

QUESTION: You said that Egyptians are not alone in the fight for democracy. I wanted to not ask if there'll be any, let me say, incentives from the United States to the Egyptian Government to let them be convinced to make presidential and parliamentary elections. Let me say also if there will not be these free elections what will be the situation of the United States, if there will be any consideration of any -- I don't want to say sanctions on Egypt or any isolation -- but what will going to happen if they fail to make this?

Thank you very much.

SECRETARY RICE: Yes. Thank you. Well, I'm going to concentrate and I hope the Egyptian Government is going to concentrate on making free and fair elections happen, that -- we have a good relationship with Egypt. We have good personal relations between the President and our President. They go back a long way. And I think our role is to persuade and to say what is expected. And I think in saying what is expected we have, perhaps, helped to open up the space for a different kind of outcome for what happens here in Egypt. I don't have any doubt that the process that has now begun in Egypt as a result of the decisions on the constitution and competitive elections is an important step. I have no doubts about that. What we want to see is that the Egyptian Government takes advantage of the step that it has made now and uses the -- everything that we know that free governments can do to give people the opportunity to really make this a more open political system. Having taken the step, everybody is watching Egypt. I think the Egyptian leadership understands that. Frankly, I think all of you understand that. And that means that the government needs to do the things that we were talking about. I said that today in my discussions with the government. I'll say it again when I have further discussions. And the Foreign Minister, standing next to me, said, "We will have free, fair and transparent elections." That's what we expect and the world will be watching.

Yes. The lady -- all right. The gentleman right there and then the lady next to him.

QUESTION: First, I trust you, but what's the problem is, for 60 years before, you supported dictatorship regime. What is the guarantee you will support a free democratic regime?

My second question is about Syria. What would be happening with Syria? Do you want to settle the dispute with Syria or just some kind of pressure?

My last question, I think the people will not trust United States about Iraq because many Egyptian work in Iraq. They work in Iraq for many years and recent (inaudible), bloodshed in the street, and they say this is not real democracy. We hope if you have a real democracy in Iraq, I hope this, but let me honest with you that people in the street does not trust -- actually, I trust (inaudible). Thank you.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you. They're all very good questions. The first is yes, there's 60 years when we didn't -- we were not outspoken about the need for democracy in this part of the world. In fact, at the same time that we were talking about democracy in Europe and democracy in Asia, we didn't about the Middle East. Things have changed. We had a very rude awakening on September 11th, when I think we realized that our policies to try and promote what we thought was stability in the Middle East had actually allowed, underneath, a very malignant, meaning cancerous, form of extremism to grow up underneath because people didn't have outlets for their political views.

Now, that is not to say that there is anything that can be done or said with al-Qaida or for al-Qaida. These are people who are killers and terrorists and that's all. But we have to deal with the conditions that produce extremism. And it's not just a lack of hope in terms of economic viability. It's a lack of hope in terms of political and social growth.

This is a great region of the world, which is a cradle -- the cradle of civilization. It has led human progress for so many years. How can it be now that, as the Arab Development Report talked about, 22 countries of the Arab world have the combined GDP, a couple of years ago, of Spain? How can that be the case? It certainly isn't anything about the intelligence of Arab people. It certainly isn't anything about their aspirations. It's about the absence of freedom and the absence of liberty. And so we have to address that and we understand that now in a way that I think that we did not understand it before.

Secondly, as to Syria, all that we ask is that Syria join in the progress that is being made all around it, in more liberty for its people, in supporting the people of Lebanon and Iraq and the Palestinian territories against the terrorists who want to stop their progress toward democracy.

And as to Iraq, the United States has lost almost 1,800 of our finest young men and women in Iraq. We didn't do it because we sought somehow strategic advantage. We did it because we believed that there was a threat in Iraq from a dictator who had invaded his neighbors, who had used weapons of mass destruction on his neighbors and on his own people, and who was going to continue to be a reason that this region could not change. Now, the Iraqi people are on a very different course than they ever would have been under Saddam Hussein. And they're struggling. And there are evil people who every day get on television by blowing up innocent Iraqis, Iraqi school children, Iraqis who have volunteered to be policemen and security forces, Iraqis just walking down the street. But the Iraqi people, at the same time, are trying to build a different course. They had elections; 8.5 million of them turned out despite the fact that there were signs that said, "If you vote, you will die." These people have had elections, they're going to write a constitution, they're trying to live together as Sunnis and Shia and Kurds and other minorities, all trying to live together.

Imagine what a different Middle East it can be with an Iraq that is democratic and unified and free, with a Palestinian state that is democratic and free, and with reform in great countries like Egypt. Imagine what a different Middle East that would be. It will certainly not be a Middle East that produces people who want to blow up other innocent people. That's not normal. And it will be a region, again, that can lead, as it always has, in science and in technology and in entrepreneurship. That's what the United States wants to see. Yes, because it is for our security, but also because it is very close and dear to our values. And I think if you ask the Iraqis with whom we're working, this is an Iraqi process. The United States is not governing what the Iraqis are doing. That, I hope, is a symbol to people of how we want to be partners with the people of this region.

I think I have time for two more. I'm going to take one right here and then one on that side.

QUESTION: Dr. Rice, I'm Mohammed Abou Zeid (ph). I'm a professor here at AUC, I'm also the Chair of the University Senate. Welcome to Egypt. Welcome to AUC. Actually, before you came, I was discussing with some of the colleagues here who have been with you in Stanford and they spoke very highly of you and that's normal, and we invite you to change your schedule and stay with us.

SECRETARY RICE: (Laughter.) I would love it.

QUESTION: Go back to those good days.

Actually, I'll be very specific in my question and I'll change gear to another area, to Europe. Where do you see the cooperation between the United States and Europe towards the Middle East policy? I have a special, and maybe all of us, concern with what's happening in Europe these days, the disagreements, to say the least, between different countries. So how can we -- the United States and Europe -- join forces in a good, productive and vital way into the Middle East in peace and prosperity? Thank you very much.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you very much. It's a very good question because when I have been in Europe recently, I've been saying to our European allies let's stop analyzing the state of the U.S.-European relationship and put that relationship to good work toward great strategic goals. And the United States and Europe share a history of having struggled and having sacrificed so that there could be democracy and unity in Europe.

I've been to the grave sites in the Netherlands or at Normandy in France. And when Europe was threatened by tyranny, the United States responded to that and with Europeans freed the continent of tyranny and believed that democracy could take place in places that it had really never taken place before, like Germany, where democracy had never taken root. And because we share that history and that sacrifice, it should be only natural that the United States and Europe together now reach out to regions where that democratic enterprise is just beginning, where democratic progress is being made. And we're trying to do that.

We have joined forces with, by the way, states in the region for something called the Forum for the Future, which is an opportunity for civil society groups here in the Middle East to connect with other civil society groups outside, women's groups and business groups and environmental groups, all of them, so that they have a chance to share the way that civil society interacts.

We have through our organizations like NATO created something called the Istanbul Dialogue, where we will talk about security issues. It's not that NATO wants to be in the Middle East, I can assure you; but it is because we need dialogue. But what we and Europe can do most is to stand together for these values, to say that it is not acceptable in this region, as it is unacceptable in every other region, for there to be corners where tyranny is unaddressed or where a spotlight is not shown on it. What we can say together is that it is only right that women, as well as men, engage fully in the democratic enterprise.

The European Union has been great in putting resources into some of these programs for years and so we are working with them. But I think the most fundamental thing is that we've had to have a conversation with ourselves about old attitudes that sometimes exist: that there are just certain parts of the world or maybe certain people who aren't quite ready for democracy; that it's just somehow not possible to have democracy in certain parts of the world. And I always say to my colleagues, you know, I grew up, as the lady said, in Birmingham, Alabama, at a time when people said that about black people. We either didn't want democracy or we were too childlike, we didn't need democracy, somebody had to take care of us. That's patronizing to the extreme.

And so we and the Europeans, I think, now in this conversation have begun to speak with one voice that democracy and liberty and those aspirations are universal, and that is our responsibility, as those who have been fortunate enough to be in a context of democracy and liberty, to help those now who want to fulfill those aspirations.

And I have one more and I saw the woman right there. She's got on -- right, yes, yes. No, no -- okay. Go ahead, go ahead. Yes.

QUESTION: Ms. Secretary, I really appreciate your words on the leadership of Egypt in this region and my question has to do with that. It has to do with the State Department authorization bill, which now has passed the International Relations Committee of the House and has a plank on reducing the military aid to Egypt and shifting it into economic aid. What would be the Bush Administration's position on that if it passes both houses of Congress and how, in your view, that would impact Egypt's leadership? And my other quick question to you, what would you say to my fellow Egyptians who were hurt by what happened to the Koran and were really expecting, at least, an official apology? Thank you very much.

SECRETARY RICE: Thank you.

(Applause.)

SECRETARY RICE: Well, on the first question, the United States believes that we have the right balance in the various forms of aid that we give to Egypt, that we grant to Egypt, because Egypt does play an important strategic role also in the fight against terrorism as well. We are, through a number of sources, making more -- through the Middle East Partnership Initiative and the like -- we are making more aid available for civil society and for education and a number of issues like that. But we think we have essentially the right balance and we would like the Congress to support the American -- the Administration's proposal for aid to Egypt.

As to the Koran -- and I'm very glad you asked because it gives me a chance to address it. First of all, the incidents that the Defense Department has talked about, I think were overwhelmingly, overwhelmingly, simply mistakes by people, not intentioned. And the United States would never sanction for its personnel to somehow disrespect the great book of a great religion. It's not in our character. It's not in our nature. You never hear in these reports that when we hold detainees, they are given prayer mats so that they can pray, or that there are arrows pointing toward Mecca so that they can pray properly, that one of the most important things that Defense did was to tell people how to handle the Koran with respect. Because, after all, the United States is a country that was built on religious freedom. The framers fled, in large part, because of issues of religious freedom.

The United States has a large and growing Muslim population. You can go into most big cities in the United States and see several mosques where American Muslims worship freely, where their traditions are respected, not just in the mosques but in their communities, where they may live right next door to a Christian or to a Jew. That is the way that America operates. There's a reason that people continue to flood America as immigrants. It's because it is a tolerant society. Yes, we've had our ups and downs in terms of racial harmony. I am, myself, personally acquainted with that. But this is also a society that struggles every day to be tolerant and to recognize and respect all religions.

When I was the Provost at Stanford, by far, the fastest-growing student population was among the Muslim students. And sometimes, also not realized or not thought about, that the last several times that the United States used military force, it was actually on behalf of oppressed Muslims: whether it was in the Balkans, where Muslims were dying in the Balkans; or in Kuwait, where there had been an invasion; or in Afghanistan, where the Taliban brutalized its own people and brutalized women; and in Iraq, where there are more than 300,000 people in mass graves.

So our country is one that believes in the value of diversity and especially in the value of religious diversity. And the other important thing about the United States is that not only are you free to worship as you please, you're free not to worship at all, if you choose. And you're just as American if you choose not to. That's the foundation on which we were built.

And whatever happened in those places, I can assure you that the United States Government would condemn completely and thoroughly any misuse, any lack of respect, any mishandling of a world's -- of a great book of the world's great religions. We respect Islam. We know that this is one of the foundational religions of human culture. And on that basis, I believe that the United States, given its great diversity -- religiously, culturally, ethnically -- can work with almost any country in the world.

And I'd say one final thing. There are an awful lot of ties of kinship between the United States, the people of the United States, and almost any other place in the world. I meet Egyptian Americans. I've taught Egyptian Americans. They still love Egypt, but they love America, too. And that says something about how America reaches out and embraces people from all around the world. Thank you very much.

(Applause.) 2005/T10-12

# # #


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