The Iraq effect? Bush may have had it right

Something remarkable is happening in the Middle East - a grass-roots movement against autocracy without any significant "Great Satan" anti-American component.

In Beirut, the crowds that massed in the streets and forced the resignation of the Syrian-controlled government were demonstrating for kifaya (change) and freedom from the Syrian military that has occupied their country for more than a quarter of a century.

The passionate protest had apparently been triggered by the assassination of the popular former prime minister, Rafik Hariri - an assassination that the Lebanese assume was engineered by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

In Egypt, too, the streets have been alive with the sound of kifaya. Apparently seeking to divert the movement for change, President Hosni Mubarak announced last weekend a change in the election law to permit competitive elections. But his likeliest challenger, Ayman Nour, is in jail for allegedly forging election documents. And this week there were demonstrations in the streets of Cairo in his support.

In the past the United States would have avoided criticizing Mr. Mubarak, a key figure in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. But now Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has openly rebuked Mubarak and canceled a scheduled visit to Cairo.

In London this week, Secretary Rice said, "Events in Lebanon are moving in a very important direction."

The movements for democratic change in Egypt and Lebanon have happened since the successful Iraqi election on Jan. 30. And one can speculate on whether Iraq has served as a beacon for democratic change in the Middle East.

During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, President Bush said that "a liberated Iraq can show the power of freedom to transform that vital region."

He may have had it right.

Daniel Schorr is the senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

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