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Condoleezza Rice holdt mandag en tale til 600 inviterte på American University i Kairo, der hun gjorde det klart at signalene om at USA støtter frihet og demokrati i Midtøsten, ikke er noen døgnflue. President George Bush har sagt det, og Condoleezza gjentok: vi støttet tidligere autoritære ledere, ja, rene tyranner, fordi de skulle sørge for stabilitet, og ofret demokratiet. -Vi fikk hverken stabilitet eller demokrati.

Dette er en skjellsettende omlegging av politikken for en supermakt, og har knapt skjedd tidligere i verdenshistorien. Condoleezza følger også opp i praksis: hun besøkte opposisjonspolitikeren Ayman Nour.

Eliten i et land som Egypt er ikke vant til å høre den slags signaler. Ikke hvis de er alvorlig ment, og det var ingen begeistring å spore, skriver Nytimes.

«For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither,» Ms. Rice declared at the American University in Cairo. «Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people.»

Ms. Rice’s appeal, some of the toughest talk in the Arab world from a secretary of state, drew no applause and a mixed reaction in general, including criticism from Egyptian opposition groups demanding an even harder line. On the other hand, the Egyptian foreign minister, dismissing her comments, said Egypt’s planned elections were already going to be free and fair.

There were also complaints from some of the 600 listeners during the question-and-answer session in Cairo that her call for freedom was undercut by the American indifference to Israeli «war crimes,» mistreatment of prisoners at Guantánamo and Abu Ghraib and the chaos in Iraq that many say has discredited the idea of imposing democracy.

Praising Mr. Mubarak for taking some «encouraging» first steps toward democracy, she set down some benchmarks. «Egypt’s elections, including the Parliamentary elections, must meet objective standards that define every free election,» including freedom of assembly, speech and press.

As for Saudi Arabia, where Ms. Rice flew after speaking in Egypt, she also praised «some first steps toward openness» in the holding of municipal elections, but she condemned depriving women of the right to vote and the arrest of nonviolent dissidents.