Protests in Middle East a setback for al-Qaeda: Gates
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Last Updated: Wednesday, March 02, 2011, 12:58
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.


First Published: Wednesday, March 02, 2011, 12:58

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