Hillary warns of Arab Spring backsliding



Hillary warns of Arab Spring backsliding Tunis: US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton warned on Saturday of backsliding in the democratic transformations under way in the Middle East and North Africa and appealed for leaders and citizens to make good on the promise of reform offered by the Arab Spring and not abandon the democratic goals that sparked revolts throughout the region.

In Tunisia, the catalyst for the tumult that engulfed the region last year, Hillary told Tunisians that their continued embrace of reforms would serve as a powerful example elsewhere. Her comments came amid concerns that democratic transitions in some post-revolt nations like Egypt are faltering and risk being hijacked by extremists.

Hillary called on Tunisians, particularly the young, to demand that their new leaders stay on the path of liberalization and openness.

"Protecting democracy is the duty of every citizen," Hillary said. "For young people here and across the region, this is a special responsibility. You were fearless on the frontlines of the revolution, enduring tear gas and beatings. It takes a different kind of courage to be guardians of your new democracy."

Tunisia was the first Arab nation to topple a longtime autocrat when its former president fled the country a year ago in the face of protests.

"Transitions can be derailed and detoured to new autocracies," she told a town hall with Tunisian youth. "The victors of revolutions can become their victims. It is up to (you) to resist the calls of demagogues, to build coalitions, to keep faith in the system even when your candidates lose at the polls."

She recalled her own political loss to now-President Barack Obama in the Democratic primaries in 2008 and how she had rejected calls from her supporters not to quit the race and ultimately accepted his offer to become America's top diplomat.

Tunisia was ruled for 23 years by the autocratic Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who espoused a secular ideology and imposed strict limits on political Islam. Since his ouster in January 2011, there has been a flourishing of Islamic groups and a moderate Islamist political party won elections in October.

Hillary said the Islamists, along with other parties, must learn to govern together and uphold respect for rule of law, freedom of speech, religion and assembly, protect women and minorities, and "especially in a region with deep divisions within and between religions, avoid inciting sectarian conflicts that pull societies apart."

"There are those who question whether Islamist politics can really be compatible with democracy," she said. "Well, Tunisia has a chance to answer that question affirmatively and to demonstrate that there is no contradiction. That means not just talking about tolerance and pluralism - it means living it. And it's up to you to hold all your political parties to the same values."

"Protecting democracy is the duty of every citizen," Hillary said. "For young people here and across the region, this is a special responsibility. You were fearless on the frontlines of the revolution, enduring tear gas and beatings. It takes a different kind of courage to be guardians of your new democracy."

She urged young people to be patient as reforms take hold, noting that economic progress often takes much longer than political change.

"Impatience is a characteristic of being young, but there is a need to be thoughtful about how we're going to secure the political and economic" gains, Hillary said.

Earlier, in meetings with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki and Prime Minister Hamadi Jebali, Hillary pledged continuing US support for the country as it navigates the transition.

"We think Tunisia is proceeding in the right direction based on what we're seeing," Hillary said, "but we will continue to have a dialogue that raises questions as they arise."

Hillary was in Tunisia to attend a meeting on Friday of countries backing opponents of Syrian President Bashar Assad. From Tunis, she will travel to Algeria and Morocco, both of which are struggling with reforms, before returning to Washington late Sunday.

Bureau Report