TUNIS, TUNISIA: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Saturday warned of backsliding in the democratic transformations under way in the Mideast and North Africa, and appealed for countries in the region to fulfill the promise of reform offered by the Arab Spring.
In Tunisia, the catalyst for the tumult that engulfed the region last year, Clinton said the continued embrace of reforms would serve as a powerful example elsewhere. Her comments came amid concerns that transitions in Egypt and elsewhere are faltering and at risk of being hijacked by extremists.
Clinton 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,” Clinton said. “For young people here and across the region, this is a special responsibility. You were fearless on the front lines of the revolution, enduring tear gas and beatings. It takes a different kind of courage to be guardians of your new democracy.”
Later, in Algeria, she carried the same message: “The people of the Maghreb are as talented, creative and hard-working as people anywhere in the world. They need and deserve the opportunity to make decisions on behalf of themselves because that is good for the dignity and rights of every individual and it is good for every society.”
She spoke of the need for an accountable and effective government, a dynamic private sector and a vibrant civil society.
The Maghreb countries are Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Mauritania, and Morocco, Clinton’s final stop before returning to Washington today.
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.