June 21, 2005


FROM: Gary Schmitt

SUBJECT: Secretary Rice in Egypt

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s speech yesterday at the American University in Cairo was a remarkably impressive speech. Indeed, diplomatic historians may some day put it in the league with Secretary George Marshall’s speech at Harvard announcing the Truman administration’s Marshall Plan. Calling on Egypt and its president, Hosni Mubarak, to lead the way in moving his country and, indeed, the region toward the establishment of constitutional and liberal democracy, Secretary Rice laid down a series of markers for Egypt’s president and his government to fulfill their promise of democratic change. Egypt’s presidential and parliamentary elections “must meet objective standards that define every free election.” To wit:

  • Opposition groups must be free to assemble and have access to the media.
  • Voting must be free of violence and intimidation.
  • International election monitors and observers must have unrestricted access to do their jobs.

But, for this to happen, the Bush administration will have to insist on the immediate establishment of an international observer organization to oversee the monitoring of these key components of a free and fair election. The administration will also have to insist that the opposition has funds to operate on, since in a closed political society – like Egypt’s – the government dominates everything. The key point here is that a free election doesn’t occur on Election Day, but results from a process that extends throughout a campaign. With both parliamentary and presidential elections occurring this fall, the effort must begin today. If the Egyptian government is serious about democratic reforms, they shouldn’t object to these steps. And, if the administration is serious, they should not object to pushing for them.

Secretary Rice’s speech is potentially a milestone in the President’s policy of attempting to spread democracy in the Middle East. But the true test of the speech’s impact will rest on whether the practical steps outlined above are taken.