Good Evening and welcome to our celebration of the 234th anniversary of American independence.
I am particularly happy to welcome:
–The Diplomats, coming to us from Naples, Italy, the rock band component of the U.S. Naval Forces Europe Band. Their mission is to spread goodwill and enhance the spirit of cooperation—I believe they are in the right place tonight.
–Later this evening, we will enjoy hearing Suzan Abo El Hassan—who began as an instrumentalist, but who’s vocal talent has made her a popular entertainer.
–Finally, I would like to thank Sharon Daves for her beautiful rendering of our National Anthem. She is also the Deputy Director for Global Disease Detection and Response at the Naval Medical Research Unit here in Cairo.
Two hundred and thirty-four years ago, the Second Continental Congress sitting in Philadelphia issued a Declaration of Independence that began the longest, most remarkable experiment in self-government ever undertaken.
This experiment began with a simple, but forceful justification of the decision to declare independence from Great Britain. The declaration drew its primary justification from universal values that the founders of the United States held to be self evident: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among them are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness—that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. . .”
The values upon which the United States established its government remain firm and ever present in our national identity, but the implementation of these values, their interpretation over time has continued to evolve and grow. The citizens of the United States seek constantly to perfect our union and to expand the application of the principles upon which our country was founded.
Most political science classes that examine the American model of government cite the importance of the balancing of power among the various branches of government as security against a reversion to monarchy or the threat of mob rule.
Equally, if not more, important were the first ten amendments to the Constitution—introduced before the ink was dry. The amendments, known collectively as the Bill of Rights, set the course of American history. The history of the United States has been the history of an empowered and protected citizenry who would challenge the government, criticize the government, and demand redress of grievances without fear.
The First Amendment alone guarantees to all Americans: the right to religious freedom, the right to free speech and a free press, the right of the people to assemble peacefully, and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.
Had these freedoms not been embedded from the beginning of our history, one can only wonder whether the course of our history would have been the same.
While the U.S. has enjoyed its share of distinguished presidents and other political leaders, most change and development has been led from the bottom up. Civil society—individuals working alone or together—have been the most reliable source of change. It is this restlessness, this continual demand from American citizens that we live up to our ideals, that has driven our progress.
Change has often come amidst great controversy, discord, and sometimes violence. But, with the exception of our Civil War—which I grant is a major exception—the United States has managed to preserve its unity and resolve its disagreements through essentially non-violent debate and compromise.
The abolition of slavery, the enfranchisement of women, universal suffrage, enactment of civil rights and environmental protection legislation, the advancement of rights for the disabled, the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively – all these reforms and advancements were first advocated by committed individual and groups, by an energetic free press, by citizens who demonstrated peacefully but persistently and in large numbers to support the demands for change. Without the role of civil society, one cannot know whether or not government and those elected would have overcome the vested interests and default to the status quo that often impede change.
So, why I am talking about all of this American history on a hot night in Cairo? Because our Independence Day reminds us that the United States is a nation founded on ideas and principles. We have at times in our history fallen short of them in practice. But we always turn back to them for guidance. They have steered us through 234 years of history, and they continue to anchor our identity as a people. They also form the lens through which we see our foreign policy, and our engagement with the rest of the world.
When President Obama came to Cairo last year, he set out to reset the agenda for U.S. engagement with the Muslim world. He spoke to the areas of persistent misunderstanding and sought to clarify U.S. objectives in the region; he outlined areas where he hoped to broaden engagement—in increased cooperation in education, science, technology, and the development of entrepreneurship.
He also spoke to the United States commitment to support the advance of democracy and respect for human rights around the world.
He made clear that the U.S. did not seek to impose a specific system of government on any other country; he recognized that each nation would realize the principle that governments should reflect the will of the people in its own way, grounded in its own traditions.
He echoed the universal principles contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and enshrined in our own founding documents when he expressed his “unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn’t steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose.”
He pledged U.S. support for these principles everywhere in the world.
I am happy to report that we have been hard at work over the past year, both in Egypt and in the region, to make this vision a reality. I think everyone standing here today understands this is no easy task, and it can’t happen overnight, but I do think we are beginning to see results.
– We continue, in cooperation with many nations, to pursue our goal for a comprehensive peace in the Middle East, supporting Iraqi efforts to restore stability and good governance in their country. In Afghanistan, we will defeat Al Qaeda and help the Afghan people resist the influence of the Taliban.
–We are increasing support to education in Egypt; we have increased funding for post-graduate education in the U.S. as well as for training and education in Egypt.
–We are expanding scientific cooperation: by doubling our contribution to the US-Egypt Joint Science and Technology Fund, by focusing on support to science education, and look forward to 2011—the US-Egypt Science year
–We are piloting our efforts to expand support to entrepreneurship in Egypt. We have energized numerous U.S. and Egyptian partnerships aimed at developing entrepreneurial success in Egypt, and will establish an Entrepreneur in Residence in Cairo later this year. In addition, in response to the President’s promise last year in Cairo, the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation has just approved a $455 million in financing to support the establishment of five private equity investment funds designed to catalyze private sector investments that promote technological growth in the Middle East and North Africa. These funds could potentially catalyze more than $2 billion in new investments.
–And we are focusing our support to democracy and human rights in Egypt through support to Egyptian civil society that can be the source of social and economic and political innovation that will benefit all of Egypt.
Thank you for coming tonight and I hope you enjoy your visit to our Embassy.