Sunday, March 13, 2005 Fouad Ajami sees a strong stirring and lauds Bush's passionate pursuit of freedom for the crowds in Araby Fouad Ajami sees a strong stirring and lauds Bush's passionate pursuit of freedom for the crowds in Araby (3/14/05): "A sudden, powerful stirring
By Fouad Ajami

In retrospect, it was an appearance by President George W. Bush before the National Endowment for Democracy, in November 2003, that signaled the birth of a new 'diplomacy of freedom' in the Arab world. The American military effort in Iraq was in its early stages then; the euphoria of the military campaign had ended, and a war of attrition had begun. Saddam Hussein was still on the loose,

and there was no trace of those vaunted weapons of mass destruction that had taken us to war. At that uncertain hour, Bush proposed nothing less than a break with the ways of American diplomacy in the region. '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,' he said, 'stability cannot be purchased at the expense of liberty. 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.'

Today the Arab world is beset by a mighty storm. For decades, the American choice in Arab-Islamic lands was stark. The 'civil society' there was truculent and malignantly anti-American, while the rulers seemed like eminently reasonable men willing to strike bargains in the shadows. It was easy to accept their authoritarianism as the cultural practice of the Arabs: This was what Bush called the 'soft bigotry of low expectations.'

Deep down we may have suspected Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak of double-dealing and bad faith in the diplomacy he pursued in the region, in the kind of official culture his regime spread in that surly, unhappy land. We suspected he was taking our dollars while nurturing a culture of anti-Americanism and antimodernism. But we tolerated that terrible bargain. We accepted with resignation that the Islamists were a worse alternative than the military regime. Now the ground has shifted. A budding popular opposition has taken to the streets of Cairo. In one poignant word, its banners proclaim its politics, and tell us so much about that country and its modern-day pharaoh: Kifaya (enough) is the name of the movement. Egypt has wearied of its ruler, of his family, of the mediocrity of his regime. 'Enough' said the crowd that wanted done with the emergency decrees, with the corruption and the plunder. The cancellation by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of a visit to Cairo to protest the arrest of a member of Parliament who dared question pharaoh's will was overdue. We owed it to these people. More important, we owed it to ourselves.

Discovering possibilities. The crowds in the plazas of Beirut have been holding aloft placards and banners of their own, ones that tell of a society fed up with a long season of Syrian misrule and extortion.

We don't know for sure if the American public shares Bush's passion for the pursuit of freedom. We know that America has paid dearly for this democratic movement, in both blood and treasure, for this democratizing push was given force by Iraq's elections. But the outlines of a new Arab world may now be dimly seen. A brilliant American officer, Lt. Col. Mark Martins, whom I met in Baghdad, allowed himself a moment of satisfaction. "Democracy is not a luxury car," he E-mailed me last week. "It is an all-terrain vehicle and good for fighting insurgency."

We now take democracy on those hard Arab roads. It is their world, and they must repair it. But they hang on Bush's words, in Damascus and Beirut, and in Cairo as well. It is odd that it is a conservative American president who proclaims this confident Wilsonianism. But the crowds in Araby don't seem to mind."

Let's hope everything works out. I'm sure democracy is inevitable in the long run, but we still have alot of work to do.

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