Clinton tells Mideast leaders to enact democratic reforms

At int'l security conference, Merkel says Egyptian protests awaken memories of events that ended communism in e. Europe.

Clinton Merkel 311 (photo credit: Associated Press)
Clinton Merkel 311
(photo credit: Associated Press)
MUNICH — US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday urged leaders across the Middle East to embrace democratic reforms in response to growing unrest in the region, despite the risk of short-term instability in countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.
Speaking at an international security conference in Munich, Clinton said change is a "strategic necessity" that will make Arab nations stronger and their people more prosperous and less susceptible to extremist ideologies.
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She urged European nations to join the US in pressing for broad political and economic reform in the Middle East. She said half measures are "untenable" as they will only breed further discontent.
Clinton allowed that democratic transitions can be chaotic. But she said leaders who deny their people freedom and opportunity open the door to instability.
Speaking at the same conference, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday that protests in the Middle East awaken memories of the events that ended communism in eastern Europe, and declared that "there will be change in Egypt."
However, Merkel — who grew up in East Germany and entered politics as communism crumbled amid protests in 1989 — said any transition needs to be orderly, and cautioned against assuming that the West's democratic model can simply be exported elsewhere.
"We are seeing pictures awaken memories of what we experienced in Europe ... people who are shaking off their fear, people who are saying what they don't like, who name injustices by name," Merkel said at an annual gathering of global security officials.
"Who would we be if we did not say we stand on the side of these people who are expressing what bothers them?"
Merkel called for Egyptian authorities to guarantee "freedoms that we consider universal — freedom of the press, freedom of opinion."
"There will be change in Egypt," she said, adding that it must be peaceful. Still, drawing on her own memories of starting out with a new pro-democracy party that failed to make much of a mark in elections a few months after the Berlin Wall fell, she cautioned against moving too fast.
"If you're in this kind of process of upheaval, things just can't go fast enough," Merkel said. But, she added, it doesn't make sense to hold elections very quickly "as the beginning of a process of democratization — you have to give people a chance to create structures."
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
Click here for full Jpost coverage of unrest in Egypt
Merkel spoke alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron. Neither leader would say what should happen to President Hosni Mubarak, whose immediate departure is a key demand of Egyptian protesters.
"I don't think we in the West should be the ones to point fingers and say it's this leader or that leader who must go now or start now," Cameron said. However, "to those who say what we need is to stick to the regime (in the interest of) stability, there is no stability in Egypt today," he added.
The Munich conference also features UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and high-powered delegations from around the world.
Ban said recent events in the Middle East "are driven at bottom by human insecurity, poverty, diminished or disappointed expectations, the lack of good governance, corruption."
"It is important to remember: the problems and grievances causing unrest in the Arab world represent a microcosm in too many ways of the broader world," he added. "Despite progress in many places, insecurity is everywhere on the rise."