Obama Urges Mideast Leaders to Be Proactive in Reforms
Washington — Noting the political unrest that has spread from Tunisia to Egypt and elsewhere in the region, President Obama says young people are seeking better opportunities and ways to improve their lives. He urges governments in the region to “get out ahead of change” and respond to their peoples’ aspirations in a manner that doesn’t lead to violence.
“You can’t maintain power through coercion. At some level in any society, there has to be consent,” Obama said in a February 15 press briefing at the White House, adding that newfound abilities to mobilize people through the Internet, smart phones and other communication developments have made this fact “particularly true in this new era.”
“My belief is that, as a consequence of what’s happening in Tunisia and Egypt, governments in that region are starting to understand this. And my hope is that they can operate in a way that is responsive to this hunger for change but always do so in a way that doesn’t lead to violence,” he said.
The president said that if ordinary people see there are “pathways for them to feed their families, get a decent job, get an education, [and] aspire to a better life,” the region will achieve more stability. He urged governments to “get out ahead of change; you can’t be behind the curve.”
“The more steps these governments are taking to provide these avenues for mobility and opportunity, the more stable these countries are,” Obama said.
He also said that events in Tunisia and Egypt have shown that real change will not be achieved through terrorism and the killing of innocent people.
“It’s going to happen because people come together and apply moral force to a situation. That’s what garners international support. That’s what garners internal support. That’s how you bring about lasting change,” he said.
The history of successful transitions to democracy “have generally been ones in which peaceful protests led to dialogue, led to discussion, led to reform, and ultimately led to democracy,” he said, recalling the political upheavals in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the protests that led to Indonesia’s democratic transition in the late 1990s.
According to Obama, the role of the United States is to lend moral support to those who are seeking a better life while also understanding that the United States cannot dictate change in other countries.
“My administration’s approach is the approach that jibes with how most Americans think about this region, which is that each country is different; each country has its own traditions. America can’t dictate how they run their societies,” he said.
But there are “certain universal principles that we adhere to,” the president said, such as the belief that violence cannot be used to maintain control, that everyone in the world has the right to assemble and freely express their opinions, and that people should be allowed to share their grievances with their governments.
He urged countries in the region to “look at Egypt’s example, as opposed to Iran’s example.”
“I find it ironic that you’ve got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt when, in fact, they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully in Iran,” Obama said.
He said Iranian desires for greater opportunity, free expression and other universal rights “are absolutely aspirations we support.”
As with Egypt, what happens in Iran and other countries “will be determined by the citizens of those countries,” Obama said. “What we can do is lend moral support to those who are seeking a better life for themselves.”
(This is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://www.america.gov)