By JAMIE STENGLE Associated Press

DALLAS (AP) – Former President George W. Bush said Thursday he wasn’t surprised by the recent uprisings in the Middle East and warns that it takes a while for freedom to “take root.”

“I think we live in exciting times and I’m not surprised that freedom continues to march forward,” Bush said. “And the reason I’m not surprised, is because I believe and many in this room believe, deep in the soul of every man, woman and child on the face of the earth is the desire to be free.”

Bush made brief remarks while introducing former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at a one-day conference hosted by the George W. Bush Institute. He added that the U.S. shouldn’t become isolated while those freedom reforms are taking place.

Rice told the audience of about 300 — including professors, activists and officials from pro-democracy organizations — that fledging reforms in the Mideast need to be nurtured, adding that it’s no time for the U.S. to “lose its nerve.”

“The message should be freedom is always worth it. It’s hard. We will be with you,” Rice said.

Reflecting on the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Rice said, “What one day seems impossible seems inevitable in retrospect.”

The conference called “The Wave of Freedom: Early Lessons from the Middle East,” was being held on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas, where Bush’s presidential center is being built.

Afternoon panel discussions will include the role social media had in the uprisings and what influence the uprisings might have on other non-democratic regimes.

In what has come to be called the “Arab Spring,” Tunisia’s long-term dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali was ousted in January. The next month, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak stepped down in the face of a popular uprising. Other countries that have seen uprisings include Syria, Libya and Bahrain.

About 10 protestors stood outside of the university’s gates, with signs that included one reading, “Greed Kills.”

The Bush library and the institute, which focuses on education reform, global health, economic growth and human freedom, will be part of the George W. Bush Presidential Center, which is expected to be completed in 2013.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)