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Bush contrasts Arab, Israeli paths

In speeches during his Mideast swing, the president lectured Arab regimes but praised Israel.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / May 20, 2008

Tough love: At an economic summit in Egypt Sunday, Bush criticized Arab regimes for not spreading more freedom or isolating terror-supporting states.

Adel Hana/AP

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Washington

President Bush's just-completed trip to the Middle East might be summed up as a tale of two speeches.

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On May 15, Mr. Bush talked about the historic ties between the US and Israel in a speech to the Israeli Knesset – and got warm applause in return.

On May 18, he talked about Arab political repression in an address to regional policymakers and business leaders at Sharm el-Sheik, Egypt – and received, at best, a cool reception.

Authoritarian Arab governments are not fond of being lectured to about democracy and women's rights, since it threatens their power, notes Gerald Hyman, president of the Hills Program on Governance at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. In their eyes, the US is in fact hesitant about full democracy in the region, since it might hand more power to Hamas and other groups hostile to the US and Israel.

Plus, every day they look at the example of their neighbor Iraq, where democracy does not seem to have brought political stability.

"There are just a whole bunch of things piled on top of one another that makes this subject from this president unpopular in the Arab world," says Mr. Hyman.

In some ways Bush's five-day trip to the region had the air of a valedictory appearance. The Middle East peace process is stuck in neutral, if not reverse, and both Israelis and Palestinians appear to be waiting to see what changes in US policy the next president might bring.

Israel has long considered Bush among the most pro-Israeli of recent US chief executives, so his enthusiastic reception there was not exactly a surprise. The biggest controversy to arise from his Israeli speech was not geostrategic, but domestic. Bush suggested that talking with dictators on its face was appeasement – a point that Sen. Barack Obama felt was a jab aimed at him, and with which he disagreed vigorously.

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