In his much-hyped speech on the Middle East and North Africa, President Obama made the case that “a moment of opportunity” in the region should not be lost.

“Sometimes, in the course of history,” the President remarked, “the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has built up for years.”

If the cause of freedom is sweeping around the world—and all Americans can hope that it is—then history tells us that more often than not it has been the quest for the fundamental freedoms of property rights, trade, and entrepreneurship that has driven revolutionary change and served as the foundation of true democracy.

As empirically demonstrated in The Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, economic freedom is the compelling force that empowers people, unleashes powerful forces of societal change, and gives nourishment to other liberties.

People in the Middle East and North Africa have long craved liberation from poverty, and they have hungered for the dignity of free will. As President George W. Bush once noted, “Freedom can be resisted, and freedom can be delayed, but freedom cannot be denied.” Unequivocally, people’s actions have vindicated that judgment, and a critical battle for greater freedom is raging in the region. Economic freedom is a powerful building block for advancing democratic governance, and the world needs to be mobilized behind that cause more effectively.

It is time for Middle Easterners to claim their economic freedom, and America and the world should do whatever they can to help.