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Hope And Danger In The Middle East

Protestors hold banners during a demonstration the Syrian port city of Banias, April 19, 2011.

"[T]he long Arab winter has begun to thaw. For the first time in decades."

In a speech at the U.S.-Islamic World Forum in Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the United States believes there is no reason why the Middle East "cannot be among the most progressive, prosperous, peaceful, successful regions in the world.

"[T]he long Arab winter has begun to thaw. For the first time in decades," she said, "there is a real opportunity for lasting change, a real opportunity for people to have their voices heard and their priorities addressed."

Secretary Clinton noted that the uprisings across the region have challenged myths that have long been used "to justify a stagnant status quo": the myth that governments can cling to power without responding to their people's aspirations or respecting their rights; the myth that violence is the only way to produce change; and, "the most pernicious of all," the myth that the people of the region do not share universal human aspirations for freedom, dignity and opportunity.

But the signs of progress seen in recent months, said Secretary of State Clinton, "will only be meaningful, if more leaders in more places move faster and further to embrace [the] spirit of reform; if they work with their people to answer the region's most pressing challenges – to diversify their economies, open their political systems, crack down on corruption, respect the rights of all of their citizens, including women and minorities."

The transition to democratic governance will not be easy, Secretary of State Clinton warned. "Unfortunately, Iran provides a powerful cautionary tale for the transitions underway. The democratic aspirations of 1979," she noted, "were subverted by a new and brutal dictatorship. Iran's leaders have consistently pursued policies of violence abroad and tyranny at home. ... And ... Al-Qaida's propagandists have tried to yoke the region's peaceful popular movements to their murderous ideology."

Although questions remain whether the people of the Middle East "will make the most of this historic moment, or fall back into stagnation," the United States, said Secretary Clinton, "will be there as a partner working for progress. We are committed to the future of this region and we believe in the potential of its people. We look forward to the day when all the citizens of the Middle East and North Africa ... have the freedom to pursue their own God-given potential. That," said Secretary of State Clinton, "is the future that all of us should be striving and working toward."