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Clinton at Munich Conference

Anti-government protestors hold Egyptian flags during a demonstration at Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011.

Events in Tunisia and Egypt make clear that the status quo is not tenable over the long-term.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said most governments in the Middle East "have not pursued the kind of political and economic reforms that would make them more democratic, responsible, and accountable." And the growing youthful majority in the region is desperate for employment and more freedoms. "This generation," said Secretary Clinton, "is rightly demanding that their governments become more effective, more responsive, and more open."

Events in Tunisia and Egypt make clear that the status quo is not tenable over the long-term. So, for all the governments and people in the region, the challenge is to help them take systematic steps to usher in a better future where people's voices are heard, their rights respected and their aspirations met.

There are, of course, risks with the transition to democracy. It can be chaotic. It can cause short-term instability. And even worse, the transition can backslide into just another authoritarian regime as it did in Iran. "So, the transition to democracy," said Secretary Clinton, "will only work if it is deliberate, inclusive, and transparent. Those who want to participate in the political system must commit to basic principles such as renouncing violence as a tool of political coercion, respecting the rights of minorities – ethnic and religious minorities, participating in a spirit of tolerance and compromise."

The transition to democracy is more likely to be peaceful and permanent when it involves both the government in power and a broad cross-section of the citizenry. So, in addition to supporting institutions and free and fair elections, the United States is supporting civil societies, the activists, organizations, congregations, intellectuals, reporters who work through peaceful means to fight corruption and keep governments honest.

The United States urges the leaders of the region to work with civil society, to see it as a partner rather than a threat and make the political, economic, and social reforms that are being called for. And just as America engages leaders in the region, we will continue to engage the people. Democracy is the best means to security, stability and prosperity.