It's not often that I have anything good to say about President Bush. And I say that as someone who favored him over Al Gore in 2000. It took a Bush presidency and a Republican congress to turn me from a libertarian conservative into a libertarian liberal. I feared that his invasion of Iraq in 2003 was going to turn that country into a giant version of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and thus far the situation in Iraq continues to validate my reasons for opposing the war.
That being said, I read President Bush's recent remarks to the World Economic Forum at Sharm El Sheik in Egypt this weekend. I thought he made some important statements about the need to extend equality to women in the Middle East. Below are the relevant portions of the president's speech, with several passages underlined by me for emphasis.
"Building powerful economies also requires expanding the role of women in society. This is a matter of morality and of basic math. No nation that cuts off half its population from opportunities will be as productive or prosperous as it could be. Women are a formidable force, as I have seen in my own family -- (laughter and applause) -- and my own administration. (Applause.) As the nations of the Middle East open up their laws and their societies to women, they are learning the same thing.
I applaud Egypt. Egypt is a model for the development of professional women. In Afghanistan, girls who were once denied even a basic education are now going to school, and a whole generation of Afghans will grow up with the intellectual tools to lead their nation toward prosperity. In Iraq and Kuwait, women are joining political parties and running campaigns and serving in public office. In some Gulf States, women entrepreneurs are making a living and a name for themselves in the business world.
Recently, I learned of a woman in Bahrain who owns her own shipping company. She started with a small office and two employees. When she first tried to register her business in her own name, she was turned down. She attended a business training class and was the only woman to participate. And when she applied for a customs license, officials expressed surprise because no woman had ever asked for one before. And yet with hard work and determination, she turned her small company into a $2 million enterprise. And this year, Huda Janahi was named one of the 50 most powerful businesswomen in the Arab world. (Applause.) Huda is an inspiring example for the whole region. And America's message to other women in the Middle East is this: You have a great deal to contribute, you should have a strong voice in leading your countries, and my nation looks to the day when you have the rights and privileges you deserve."
Sadly, as the results of this weekend's parliamentary elections in the Gulf emirate of Kuwait demonstrate, the Middle East still has a long way to go with respect to expanding the role of women.
Of the 275 candidates running for the 50 seats in Kuwait's parliament, 27 were women. Not a single one of the women candidates was elected. Unfortunately, as the video clip below from al-Jazeera English demonstrates, not only are Arab women held in check by male conservative attitudes, but by brainwashed Arab women who believe that a woman "can't handle" the responsibilities of being an elected official. And to think this is a country that we helped to liberate.