November 25, 2003 Special Dispatch No. 615

Reactions in the Arab Press to President Bush's Address on Democracy in the Middle East

November 25, 2003
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 615

U.S. President George W. Bush's November 6, 2003 address,[1] in which he called for democratization of the Arab world, elicited a negative response in the Arab press. In Egypt, which along with Iran and Syria was mentioned specifically by Bush, the speech enraged both the government as well as the opposition press. While excerpts from the address appeared in various Egyptian papers, the liberal Al-Qaira weekly, published by the Ministry of Culture, was the only one to print the speech in full.[2] The following is a review of Arab reactions to the address:

Egypt Government Daily: Saddam's Dictatorship is Preferable to Bush's Democracy

Columnist Bassyouni Al-Hilwani wrote in the Egyptian government weekly 'Aqidati: "It appears that the American president, Little Bush, relies on a group of hashish-smoking advisors. Not a week passes without him addressing the world with naïve proposals, false and random accusations, and idiotic demands, as if he were living on a desert island with his spoiled dogs…

"Bush has forgotten that the Arab and Islamic peoples prefer to be ruled by a dictator such as Saddam Hussein than by a democratic president of the likes of Bush, who lies to the world every day, deceives his people, sows hatred towards it in the souls of all the peoples of the world, and annihilates the lives of his people in battles that do not concern them at all. Oh Mr. Bush, if you were a democratic president as you claim to be, you would abandon your post immediately and disperse all your Zionist aides and advisors, since your lies, your fraud, and the fact that you do not respect Iraqi and Afghan human rights have been exposed to the eyes of the entire world – particularly since your forces, your planes, and your missiles have executed more than 50,000 Iraqis and Afghans who sinned not at all towards you and your people."[3]

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Maher stated that Bush's address was misunderstood, and that Bush was in fact not criticizing Egyptian democracy but praising Egypt's leading role and Egypt's democracy as a model that should be applied in other countries in the region. This view was emphasized in an editorial in the Al-Ahram government daily: "The simplest rule of democracy is that it cannot be imposed from without. As first-year college students learn, and as is clearly evident in the Greek term from which the word is derived, democracy means that the people rules itself by itself and for itself. Thus, it is inconceivable that anyone external, whatever their intentions, can come to teach the peoples how to rule themselves!

"Recently, voices have arisen in the American government demanding direct intervention in order to impose democracy on the peoples and on the governments, as if the peoples were minors or mentally retarded and needed their hands held! These demands… are in themselves a violation of the rules of democracy. This intervention is reminiscent of the abhorrent idea of previous centuries regarding the white man's responsibility for the other peoples, for liberating them from ignorance and backwardness. The result was that this white man maintained colonialism of these peoples for centuries, and this caused the backwardness from which they [the Americans] want to rescue us today!…

"The fact that Egypt is marching on the path of democracy demands no proof. It is impossible to cast doubts on [the fact that] this land enjoys freedom of the press that is nonexistent in many countries of the world. Likewise, no one can cast doubts on [the fact that] Egypt has a great many political parties and freedom of expression. Naturally, there is always striving to achieve more, as this is the law of life: but it is clear that importing ready-made, packaged democracy – 'turnkey democracy' – will be of no benefit to this deeply-rooted people.

"Our people, whose civilization is 7,000 years old, does not expect and does not need to expect, others to give it lessons in democracy or in anything else. Therefore, attempts to impose democracy from without will fail."[4]

Continuing in the same vein as Foreign Minister Maher, an editorial in the government daily Al-Gumhouriyya discussed the possibility of exporting the Egyptian democratic model to other countries in the region: "…There is no doubt that in the next phase, Egypt will be witness to more than the democracy it is experiencing under Mubarak's rule, [and this will come about] of its own free will [as opposed to imposition from without]. [This democracy] can be a model for implementation for other countries interested in democracy, as a way of development and welfare."[5]

Gloating over Bush's Reference to Pro-U.S. Arab Regimes

The opposition press in Egypt also took a harsh stance on Bush's words, but it also gloated over what it perceived as Bush's insult to Arab regimes that they have always accused of being pro-American.

Ahmad 'Alwan, member of the supreme council of Al-Wafd, Egypt's biggest opposition party, wrote in the party daily Al-Wafd: "We will never accept a message from a tyrant who understands only force and whose use of weapons is the only way of spreading his message [meaning President Bush]. In contrast, we live on the land of the Arabs who understand the truth regarding [Bush's] greedy aspirations in our region… It is not our rulers' oppression of us that planted our hatred [for the U.S.], but American support for the Zionist state and, in particular, the current Bushist-Sharonist era, may Allah remove them from our path."[6]

'Brother W. Bush:' Stupid, Idiot, Fascist, Criminal

The Nasserite opposition weekly Al-Arabi featured an article by Egyptian Journalists Association member Gamal Fahmi: "Last Thursday, 'Brother' W. Bush proved that although he is idiotic, stupid, fascist, and criminal; he is also base. He surprised the [puppets] of America's creation who play, in our lands, the role of tyrannical leaders in his [i.e. Bush's] public statement… 'Brother' W. did not make do with this, but also swore to create democratic change in these regimes!

"It was said that the moment Their Highnesses, our malignant rulers, heard these words they were saddened and worried, and their bowels turned to water out of fear, and the sewers of the Arab nation were filled to overflowing…"

In the same article, Fahmi pens an imaginary dialogue between Bush and an emissary of the pro-U.S. Arab rulers, in which the emissary tries to ask the American president about democracy. "Don't you understand English?!" Bush says to the emissary, who responds, "We don't understand democracy and democracy does not understand us." Bush insists that the Arab rulers do something, and the emissary says that the U.S. was occupying Iraq, destroying it, and killing its people for the sake of democracy and that therefore "we ask your permission to do the same… Give us the order, and we will kill half of our peoples." Bush asks, "What about the other half?" "We will arrest them and put them in jail," the emissary promises, "and then we will declare democracy and release all the prisoners."[7]

Palestinian Authority Daily: Bush is Driven by an Evangelical & Colonialist Mentality

In his column in the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Ayyam, columnist Ahmad Majdalani wrote: "As is customary for colonialists, President Bush opened his missionary speech about the values of democracy in completely lame American language, the language characterized by colonialist arrogance and superciliousness which are the trademarks of the first American Yankee who annihilated the culture of the Indian people, the original inhabitants of America, and imposed the culture of power and the cowboy in its stead…

"President Bush and his speechwriters… are motivated by a Yankee and missionary mentality that propagates the values of democracy in the way of colonialism. [This mentality] blinds them to the facts of reality and history, because there is no one model for democracy. Democracy is the result of the economic, political, and social development of cultures, and it is not forced upon peoples by means of cruise missiles, tanks, and planes…"[8]

Syrian Government Daily on Blood-Sucking Americans

Nasser Shamali wrote in the government daily Teshreen: "[Bush's] speechwriters are [members] of the Zionist gang that wrote the speeches of the war on Iraq and on the Arabs and Muslims. This is the same gang of usurers and bloodsuckers whose discourse on U.S.-style democracy refers to expanding its dictatorship all over the world, killing anyone it wants to, and robbing anyone it wants to."[9]

Syrian Minister for Immigrant Affairs Buthayna Sha'aban published an open letter to President Bush in the Syrian government daily Teshreen, in which she wrote: "…The first thing that worried me in your speech was the statement that your adherence to democracy will be tested in the Middle East. Whether this hinted at Iraq or at the Arab-Israeli conflict, I say that what you are doing in both cases has [already] created a real schism between the U.S. and millions of Arabs and Muslims…

"The second thing that worried me, Your Excellency the President, is your statement that the advance of freedom leads to peace. How can people feel the taste of freedom when they are occupied? There is no doubt that freedom and security are the natural fruits of peace, but the child cannot be born before his mother…

"The last and most important point… is your statement that democracy is the path to honor. The subject of honor is the most important factor in the misunderstanding between the U.S. and the Arab and Islamic world. If honor is the essence of democracy, why does the democracy of the U.S. not take into account the honor of the Arabs?…"[10]


[1] The address was given at the 20th anniversary of the National Endowment for Democracy, Washington, D.C. on November 6, 2003.,
United States Chamber of Commerce,
Washington, D.C.

[2] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), November 12, 2003

[3] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), November 12, 2003, as cited in 'Akidati (Egypt), November 11, 2003.

[4] Al-Ahram (Egypt), November 10, 2003.

[5] Al-Gumhouriyya (Egypt), November 12, 2003.

[6] Al-Wafd (Egypt) November 11, 2003.

[7] Al-Arabi (Egypt), November 9, 2003.

[8] Al-Ayyam (Palestinian Authority), November 12, 2003.

[9] Teshreen (Syria), November 12, 2003.

[10] Teshreen (Syria), November 8, 2003.

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