Clinton Pledges Increased Support for Democratic Transitions

Oct 16, 2012

            On October 12, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton declared that U.S. support for democratic transitions is a “strategic necessity” and not just “a matter of idealism.” She discussed the status of North African political transitions at a conference hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Clinton pledged to increase engagement with the region, despite the outbreak of anti-American sentiment in September 2012. She urged Congress to approve an additional $770 million in assistance to countries that enact political and economic reforms. The following are excerpts on key issues from her remarks.

            American foreign policy has long been shaped by debates over how to balance our interests in security and stability with our values in supporting freedom and democracy. Recent revolutions have intensified these debates by creating a new birth of freedom, but also by unseating old partners and unleashing unpredictable new forces…

            Now, we recognize that these transitions are not America’s to manage, and certainly not ours to win or lose. But we have to stand with those who are working every day to strengthen democratic institutions, defend universal rights, and drive inclusive economic growth. That will produce more capable partners and more durable security over the long term…

Libya

            The terrorists who attacked our mission in Benghazi did not represent the millions of Libyan people who want peace and deplore violence. And in the days that followed, tens of thousands of Libyans poured into the streets to mourn Ambassador Stevens, who had been a steadfast champion of their revolution…

            In Tripoli, the country’s transitional leaders condemned the attack. They fired the top security officials responsible for Benghazi. Then, the government issued an ultimatum to militias across the country: Disarm and disband in 48 hours or face the consequences. As many as 10 major armed groups complied. Now, militias and extremists remain a significant problem in Libya, but there is an effort to address it that has now taken hold throughout the country. As Libya grapples with the challenges of forming a government, the international community needs to support its efforts to bring these militias to heel and provide security for all of its citizens.

Tunisia

            Consider Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab revolutions. Last year, an Islamist party won a plurality of the votes in an open, competitive election. I know some in Washington took this as an omen of doom. But these new leaders formed a coalition with secular parties and promised to uphold universal rights and freedoms, including for women. And the United States made it clear that we would be watching closely and would assess the new government by its actions, not its words.

            This past February in Tunis, students and civil society activists shared with me their fears about extremists seeking to derail their transition to lasting democracy, but also their hopes that responsible leaders and accountable institutions would be strong enough and willing enough to turn back that challenge.

            And, indeed, we have seen an intense debate play out in Tunisian society. For example, early drafts of the new constitution labeled women as “complementary to men,” but Tunisia’s active civil society raised strong objections, and eventually the National Constituent Assembly amended the text to recognize women’s equality.

Morocco

            Last year, when citizens of Morocco called for change, Moroccan society under King Mohammed VI answered with major constitutional reforms followed by early elections and expanded authorities for parliament. An Islamist party leads the new ruling coalition along with a variety of other parties after thirteen years in the opposition. And we’ve been encouraged that its leaders have sought to engage all Moroccans and have focused on creating jobs and fighting corruption. And we continue to urge them to follow through on all of their commitments for political and economic reform.

            Last month, with anti-American protestors in the streets across the cities of Morocco, the Foreign Minister traveled to Washington for our first-ever Strategic Dialogue. He could have avoided the cameras, but instead, he strongly condemned the attack in Benghazi, embraced a broader partnership with the United States, and pledged that his country would continue working toward democracy and the rule of law.

Algeria

            Algeria also has much to gain by embracing the changes that are taking place around it, and we have seen some progress. The government held parliamentary elections in May and invited international observers to monitor them for the first time. And it moved quickly last month to protect diplomatic missions, including the U.S. Embassy, and to defuse tensions in the streets. But still, Algeria has a lot of work to do to uphold universal rights and create space for civil society, a message I delivered at the highest levels in person in February.

U.S. Efforts

            Last month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, I met with leaders from across the region, and I told each of them that the United States will continue to pursue a strategy to support emerging democracies as they work to provide effective security grounded in the rule of law to spur economic growth and bolster democratic institutions. We’ve made those three priorities the hallmark of America’s involvement in the region. We've convened donor conferences to coordinate assistance, leverage new partnerships through the G-8, the Community of Democracies, the OECD; and we have stepped up our engagement with the Arab League, signing the first ever memorandum of understanding for a strategic dialogue between us.

            But we recognize that words, whether they come from us or others, are cheap. When we talk about investing in responsible leaders and accountable democratic institutions, it has to be followed by actual investments.

            So we have mobilized more than $1 billion in targeted assistance since the start of the revolutions. And the Obama Administration has requested from Congress a new $770 million fund that would be tied to concrete benchmarks for political and economic reforms. And I again urge Congress to move forward on this priority.

Improving Security

            We are using every tool we can to help our partners fight terrorism and meet their security challenges. We recently embedded additional Foreign Service Officers with regional expertise into the U.S. Africa Command to better integrate our approach. Across the region, diplomats, development experts, and military personnel are working hand in hand.

            Across the region also, we’re partnering with security officials of these new governments who are moving away from the repressive approaches that helped fuel radicalization in the past and we're trying to help them develop strategies grounded in the rule of law and human rights.

Boosting Economies

            So that is the second area we’re focused on: Working with small- and medium-sized enterprises, which create jobs and alternatives to radicalism, bringing women and young people into the formal economy, providing capital and training for entrepreneurs, helping emerging democracies update their economic regulations, their investment laws, their trade policies so their private sectors can actually flourish.

            We’re establishing a Tunisian-American Enterprise Fund with an initial capitalization of $20 million to stimulate investment in the private sector and provide businesses with needed capital. The Overseas Private Investment Corporation, OPIC, is offering $50 million in loans and guarantees, and the Millennium Challenge Corporation is helping address long-term constraints to economic growth. We’ve provided export training for small business owners and job training to hundreds of young Tunisians. And I’m particularly proud of the new $10 million scholarship fund, which we launched in August to help Tunisian students study at American universities and colleges.

Strengthening Democratic Institutions

            Political progress has to grow from the inside, not imposed from the outside or abroad. But there are ways we can and are helping. In Libya, for example, the United States has trained hundreds of lawyers and civil society activists on election laws and offered tutorials to campaign managers and candidates in the run-up to the recent elections. Now we’re encouraging civil society to be fully engaged in drafting a new constitution that will protect the equal rights of all Libyan citizens.

            Similar efforts are underway across the Maghreb, tailored to local needs and conditions. And none of this is happening in a vacuum. The transitions occurring in the Maghreb are linked, as you well know, with developments across the wider Middle East.

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