Protests in Middle East a setback for al-Qaeda: Gates

The mass anti-government protests in the Middle East is a major setback for al-Qaeda, a top US official said.

Washington: The mass anti-government
protests in the Middle East is a major setback for al-Qaeda as
fall of authoritarian regimes in Egypt and Tunisia have proved
wrong the message of the terror outfit that violence is not
required for change, a top US official said.

"The revolutions in Tunisia and in Egypt and the
protests elsewhere that are leading to reforms in a number of
governments, I think are an extraordinary setback for
al-Qaida," US Defence Secretary Robert Gates said at a
Pentagon news conference.
"It basically gives the lie to al-Qaida`s claim that
the only way to get rid of authoritarian governments is
through extremist violence. Peoples of several countries in
the region are proving this not to be the case," he said.

The Defence Secretary termed the protests also as
setback for Iran.

"I also think that it is in some respects now and
perhaps even more so in the future, a major setback for Iran,
because the contrast between the behavior of the militaries in
Tunisia and in Egypt and, except for a brief period of
violence, in Bahrain, contrast vividly with the savage
repression that the Iranians have undertaken against anybody
who dares to demonstrate in their countries," he said.

"All of this clearly has to play out. And it could
take months and probably years before these situations
stabilize and we know if we have durable, democratic
governments in some of these countries," he said.

But a process of change has begun after decades of the
political arrangements in these countries being frozen.

"And the prospect for that change, particularly if it
is carried out without violence, as has been the case in
several of these countries, and gives rise to Democratic
governments, is a gain, first of all, for the peoples of the
region, but ultimately a gain for everybody," Gates said.
Having just returned from seven countries in the
region, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, shared the optimism with Gates.

"It`s obviously a very difficult time," he said.

"I would not put, for instance, Bahrain and Libya in
the same category at all. In fact, there was violence. The
King and the crown prince immediately stepped back for that,
called for a dialogue. Those were very positive steps.

And they are now trying to work their way through how to make
that dialogue work. I think they recognize what the
requirement is," Mullen said.

"One of the reasons I share the optimism is because in
each country, it is clearly about the people of that country.
It has not been about the external relationships; it`s been
about change inside those countries, which are so important,"
he said.

Mullen said in the long run, all the nations will
have to adjust with what these relationships mean.

"But, you know, on balance, I`m optimistic that there
is a chance for stability and opportunity that just didn`t
exist as recently as four weeks ago," he said.

"I think it`s a fundamental, almost -- it`s not a
defeat, but certainly it is -- it is a lesson or it is a
message that completely undermines the strategy of al-Qaida,"
he added.


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