Hillary urges Arab reform to foil extremism

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Arab leaders to work with their peoples to implement reforms or see extremists fill the void.

Last Updated: Jan 13, 2011, 20:33 PM IST

Doha: US Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton on Thursday urged Arab leaders to work with their peoples to
implement reforms or see extremists fill the void, warning the
region`s "foundations are sinking."

The chief US diplomat told her Arab counterparts the
region`s peoples "have grown tired of corrupt institutions"
and "stagnant" politics against what she said was a backdrop
of depleting oil and water resources.

"Too few countries," she warned, have "plans" to deal
with the worsening outlook.

"In too many places, in too many ways, the region`s
foundations are sinking into the sand. The new and dynamic
Middle East that I have seen needs firmer ground if it is to
take root and grow everywhere," she said.

Clinton said the region`s leaders "in partnership with
their peoples" have the capacity to build a bold new future
where entrepreneurship and political freedoms are encouraged.

"It`s time to see civil society not as a threat but as
a partner," Clinton told Arab leaders in Qatar attending the
Forum for the Future, a 2004 US initiative aimed at promoting
such partnerships.

"It is time for the elites in every society to invest
in the futures of their own countries," she said.

"Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold
back the full impact of their countries` problems for a little
while but not forever.

"Others will fill the vacuum," if leaders failed to
offer a positive vision to give "young people meaningful ways
to contribute," Clinton warned.

"Extremist elements, terrorist groups, and others who
would prey on desperation and poverty are already out there
competing for allegiance and competing for influence.

"So this is a critical moment, this is a test of
leadership for all of us," said the chief US diplomat.

Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmad
al-Khalifa, who shared a panel with Clinton, said change was
not easy for a tradition-bound society like his, pointing out
that the Gulf kingdom had "seen a lot of change" since reforms
began 11 years ago.

The only downside in the process was "how society is
taking change," he said.

For Clinton, the forum is the highlight of a tour of
the United Arab Emirates, Yemen, Oman and Qatar that was
organised around her push for a better partnership between
governments, business and civil society.

The forum was set up by the George W Bush
administration so that leaders from the Middle East and North
Africa, the Group of Eight leading industrial countries, and
delegates from business and civil society could meet to
discuss reform.