During what was billed as a major policy address at the American University in Cairo, Secretary Rice called for leaders in the Middle East to reject fear, and embrace freedom for their people.
"Throughout the Middle East, the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty," she said. "It is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy."
Ms. Rice told her audience of hundreds of government officials, academics, and other guests that America has significantly changed its foreign policy toward the region.
"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," she said. "Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people."
Ms. Rice called for leaders in Syria and Iran to listen to their people, who, she says, have aspirations for democracy.
In an apparent reference to armed militant groups, like Hamas in the Palestinian territories and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the secretary of state says democratic systems cannot function, if certain groups have one foot in the realm of politics, and one foot in the camp of terror.
Secretary Rice praised Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak for supporting an amendment to the country's constitution allowing multi-party elections. She warned, however, that Egyptians who are supporting reform must be free from violence and intimidation.
"President Mubarak has unlocked the door for change," she said. "Now, the Egyptian government must put its faith in its own people. We are all concerned for the future of Egypt's reforms when peaceful supporters of democracy, men and women, are not free from violence. The day must come when the rule of law replaces emergency decrees, and when the independent judiciary replaces arbitrary justice."
In a referendum last month, Egyptian voters approved reforms to allow multi-party presidential elections for the first time. Witnesses said the vote was marred by violence against opposition demonstrators, including women. The reforms set several restrictions on potential candidates, and opposition leaders say the new system does not allow for open, equitable campaigning.
Secretary Rice pointed to elections in Iraq, the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia as evidence that hopes for democratic change are sweeping over the region.
"Across the Middle East today, millions of citizens are voicing their aspirations for liberty and for democracy," she said. "These men and women are expanding boundaries in ways many thought impossible just one year ago. They are demonstrating that all great moral achievements begin with individuals who do not accept that the reality of today must also be the reality of tomorrow."
Secretary Rice offered a brief checklist for democracy to both supporters and opponents of established governments. She says leaders must accept the rule of law, reject violence, respect the standards of free elections and peacefully accept the results.