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Posted on on November 9th, 2011
by Pincas Jawetz (

Bahrain Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton

Bahrain Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Clinton urges Saudi, Bahrain to embrace Arab Spring.

By Bloomberg, Tuesday, 8 November 2011.…

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.

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, Clinton said.

“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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