Obama warns Arab world: Get ahead of reform curve

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, February 15, 2011 16:17 EDT
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WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama Tuesday warned autocratic US allies they cannot crush the Middle East’s youthful “hunger” for change and offered “moral support” to Iranian protesters defying a crackdown.

Obama walked a fine line between offering American support for political uprisings after the Egypt revolt and openly offending states that use iron-fisted rule yet have guaranteed US interests for decades.

“We have sent a strong message to our allies in the region saying — ‘let’s look at Egypt’s example, as opposed to Iran’s example.’”

In his first press conference since uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt roiled the Middle East and challenged US policy assumptions, Obama warned regional leaders “You can’t maintain power through coercion.”

Obama did not mention specific states by name, but unrest raged Tuesday in Algeria, Bahrain and Yemen, and analysts are beginning to raise questions about the long-term stability of states like US ally Jordan, and even Saudi Arabia.

“At some level, in any society, there has to be consent,” Obama said.

“The message that we’ve sent, even before the demonstrations in Egypt, has been, to friend and foe alike, that the world is changing,” Obama said.

“You have a young, vibrant generation within the Middle East that is looking for greater opportunity.

“If you are governing these countries, you’ve got to get out ahead of change, you can’t be behind the curve.”

Obama argued that despite criticisms he had been too slow to embrace protestors, that he had been on the “right side of history” as Egypt’s swift revolt unfolded, but said US could not dictate events.

“What we didn’t do was pretend that we could dictate the outcome in Egypt, because we can’t,” Obama said, praising the country’s military for giving off the “right signals” on reform after President Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.

The president, who has sought to improve US ties in the Middle East said that the in the age of smartphones and Twitter, regional governments could no longer expect to simply crush dissent.

“My belief is that, as a consequence of what’s happening in Tunisia and Egypt, governments in that region are starting to understand this.

“My hope is — 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.”

Obama also bolstered calls by the United States in recent days for Iran’s leadership to permit its people the same outlet for protest that the people of Egypt were able to exploit.

“What’s been different is the Iranian government’s response which is to shoot people and beat people and arrest people.”

After two protesters died in demonstrations called by opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi in support of Arab uprisings, Obama said he hoped Iranians would maintain the “courage” to express yearnings for freedom.

Obama’s remarks were his most direct recent comments on Iranian protests more than a year after domestic critics accused his government of not speaking up loudly enough during demonstrations against disputed Iranian elections.

His administration, now sending Twitter messages into Iran in Farsi, has openly sought to use ride the shock-waves of Mubarak’s ouster to build pressure on the Iranian government, charging it is “scared” of its people.

But Obama insisted that the United States could not dictate what happens in Iran any more than it did in Egypt.

“What we can do is lend moral support to those who are seeking a better life for themselves.”

During repeated answers on the Middle East, Obama admitted that democracy could be “messy” and pose challenges for framing coherent US policy and that the unrest would be challenging for his Israeli-Palestinian peace drive.

But he also argued the wave of change in the region could offer long-term benefits.

“I think the opportunity is that, when you have the kinds of young people who were in (Cairo’s) Tahrir Square, feeling that they have hope and they have opportunity, then they’re less likely to channel all their frustrations into anti-Israeli sentiment or anti-Western sentiment.

“Because they see the prospect of building their own country. That’s a positive.”

Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse
AFP journalists cover wars, conflicts, politics, science, health, the environment, technology, fashion, entertainment, the offbeat, sports and a whole lot more in text, photographs, video, graphics and online.
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  • Anonymous

    This speech and the recent statements from Hillary are directed to the American right, not to the Iranians. Would probably help the Iranians a lot more if they just laid low and not appear to be trying to influence internal policy.

  • Anonymous

    This is a rather silly, if lengthy comment. How do you imagine that Obama dreams of a return of the shah, who lost power before Obama was even sentient?

  • Anonymous

    “You can’t maintain power through coercion.”
    Clearly, you can; the United States is the prime example. Times are changing though… The day may come when Obama’s words become true, but that will only happen as a result of political activism on the part of the individual.

  • Anonymous

    I guess the Iranian government was not listening to Barry O today as their own parliament members publicly called for the execution of the opposition leaders today.

  • Anonymous

    “What we didn’t do was pretend that we could dictate the outcome in Egypt, because we can’t,”

    Then Obama said…

    “It’s because we done lost our Dictator”.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    He’s sentient now? What a relief.

  • Anonymous

    Actually Obama is older than that. I was a teenager during the reign of the Shah, and I was sentient, and I’m younger than Obama.

    Do you know who Mohammad Mossadegh is? If you did, you’d understand that Rubiconski’s “lengthy” comment isn’t silly at all, and a helluva lot more pertinent than yours.

  • Anonymous


  • Anonymous

    “Bait-and’Switch Barry to the Mid-Esst,

    “Do as I say, not as I do.”

  • Anonymous

    STFU, you worthless PUMA skank!

  • Anonymous

    YvonneofNC is something of disturbed bag lady on anumber of blogs. Her comments are consistently crazy, crude and offensive personal attacks.

    She should be banned.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_6YBHLDOEMFAXOYVP5ZJN43MMWQ vinnysabba

    I’m sorry and embarrassed that I voted for this clown. A true phony and hopefully the death of the Democratic Party. A country run by a conglomerate of corporate forces with paid for politicians as front men has no business lecturing anyone about reform.

  • Anonymous

    War monger Obama needs to get ahead of the “reform curve” himself.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    Who is this pimp to warn the Arabs about anything?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_TF72KWIG5DGSPE3ZXDK6FX4KTQ Robert Burned

    Maybe that depends on which fork of his tongue they were listening to.

  • Anonymous

    Doesn’t matter which fork from which prez. Iranian government sucks.

  • cosliberal

    Obama has his fucking nerve to lecture the Arabs about reform while he spends his time here in the USA on his knees before the Teahadists and the corporations…..

  • http://harry-canary.myopenid.com/ Harry Canary

    It is time for America to get ahead of the reform curve.