Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, saying that the US has a
role in democracy movements that continue to roil the Middle East, urged Saudi
Arabia and Bahrain to embrace reform and Syria to accept protesters’ demands.
“These revolutions are not ours - they are not by us, for
us, or against us, but we do have a role,” Clinton said in remarks to the
National Democratic Institute, a democracy support organization based in Washington.
“Fundamentally, there is a right side of history. We want to be on it. And
without exception, we want our partners in the region to reform so that they
are on it as well.”
Clinton addressed skepticism in both the Arab world and at
home about US motives and commitments since the Arab Spring began with a
Tunisian fruit vendor’s protest self-immolation in December 2010.
Developments in the months since then have raised the
possibility of Islamic groups gaining political power in Egypt, highlighted
differences in the way the US has approached protest movements in places like
Bahrain and Syria and drawn questions about US opposition to unilateral
Palestinian attempts to gain recognition.
While there is no “one-size-fits-all” approach to democracy
in the Arab world, such a movement is firmly in US interests and is a strategic
necessity, Clinton declared.
“The greatest single source of instability in today’s Middle
East is not the demand for change,” she said, “It is the refusal to change.”
Clinton said that held true for allies as well as others.
She warned that, if the most powerful political force in Egypt remains a
roomful of unelected officials, there will be future unrest.
She decried Iranian hypocrisy, saying that contrary to its
claims to support democracy abroad, the gulf between rulers and the ruled is
greater in Iran than anywhere else in the region. Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and
others “trying to hold back the future at the point of a gun should know their
days are numbered,” Clinton said.
To the king of Bahrain, where the US Fifth Fleet is based as
a bulwark against Iranian aggression in the Gulf, Clinton said that reform was
in the kingdom’s interest.
Officials there have used mass arrests to counter protests
by majority Shiites demanding greater rights in the Sunni-led nation. Members
of Congress have demanded an inquiry into human rights abuses before a planned
arms sale to the kingdom goes through.
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The US will hold Bahrain to its commitments to allow
peaceful protest and release political prisoners, Clinton said. While reforms
and equality are “in Bahrain’s interests, in the region’s interest and in
ours,” Clinton said, “endless unrest benefits Iran.”
Palestinians also “deserve dignity, liberty and the right to
decide their own future,” Clinton said. The only way to achieve that is through
negotiations with Israel, Clinton said.
The Middle East’s protest movements may bring to power
groups and parties that the US disagrees with, Clinton acknowledged. She said
she is asked about this most often in the context of Islamic political parties.
“The suggestion that faithful Muslims cannot thrive in a democracy is
insulting, dangerous and wrong,” she said.
While “reasonable people can disagree on a lot,” Clinton
said the crucial factor will be adherence to basic democratic principles.
Parties must reject violence, abide by the rule of law and respect freedom of
speech, association and assembly, as well as the rights of women and
minorities, she said. “In other words, what parties call themselves is less
important than what they do,” Clinton said.
The US has the resources, capabilities and expertise to
support those trying to make the transition to democracy, Clinton said. Groups
like National Democratic Institute can help with the nuts and bolts of
democracy, teaching people how to form a political party, how to ensure women
participate in government and how to foster civil society.
Mindful of the economic roots of the unrest, the Obama
administration is also promoting trade, investment and regional integration,
“With so much that can go wrong and so much that can go
right, support for emerging Arab democracies is an investment we can’t afford
not to make,” she said.
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