Today, people throughout the Middle East and North Africa are demanding more freedom, more opportunity, and more dignity. The challenge, said U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, is how to mobilize support for successful democratic transitions in countries that no longer accept the status quo. As U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said, representative government, economic opportunity, and vibrant civil society are three legs of a stool, that together lift, and support nations as they reach for long-sought progress and prosperity.
Civil society plays a unique role in supporting democratic development and reform. It gives voice to peoples' aspirations, interests and concerns. Governments and civil society should work together as partners, not competitors, to ensure real reform. Partnership with civil society must extend to the public square – to bloggers who criticize public officials; to peaceful protesters; to those advocating for equality and inclusion for all, including women and religious minorities. America strongly supports the rights of all individuals to join together in associations, to speak freely and to work with government and with each other to build a better future.
During its term as G-8 president, the U.S. intends to address issues in the Middle East and North Africa such as the rule of law, anti-corruption, expanding educational opportunities, and strengthening civil societies. Toward that end, the U.S. will make available one million dollars in grants specifically for civil society groups participating in the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative.
The United States' position on democracy is clear: the U.S. will continue to unequivocally defend human rights and hard-won freedoms, and will support democratic transitions around the world.
The final pillar supporting free and prosperous societies is economic opportunity. Political transitions cannot succeed without confidence in a better economic future. "It is essential," said Deputy Secretary Burns, "to nurture economic systems where talent is cultivated and rewarded, where entrepreneurs and innovators are unleashed to enrich their societies, where nations can trade with their neighbors and compete in the global economy."
The future of the Middle East and North Africa holds its share of uncertainties, but it is also filled with much promise. Now is the time to bend the arc of history toward respect for human rights, representative government, and economic prosperity.