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Reforms Needed Now, Clinton Tells Arab Leaders

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday warned Arab leaders that corruption and despotism threatens their countries with increasing extremism and internal rebellion unless urgent action is taken.

Clinton’s stark warning, delivered at a regional development conference in Doha, Qatar, was underscored by an ongoing political crisis in Lebanon, civil unrest in Tunisia and Algeria and tensions over a disputed election in Egypt.

“Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries’ problems for a little while, but not forever,” Clinton said. “If leaders don’t offer a positive vision and give young people meaningful ways to contribute, others will fill the vacuum.”

“Extremist elements, terrorist groups and others who would prey on desperation and poverty are already out there appealing for allegiance and competing for influence,” she said. “This is a critical moment and this is a test of leadership for all of us.”

Wrapping up a four-nation tour of U.S. allies in the Persian Gulf that also included visits to the United Arab Emirates, Oman and Yemen, Clinton said the Arab world needed to make room politically and economically for the region’s exploding youth population, women and minorities.

At each of her stops in the Gulf, Clinton met members of civil society, including women’s rights activists, opposition leaders and students, encouraging them to speak out for reforms they see as necessary.

She said many leaders were failing “to build a future that your young people will believe in, stay for and defend,” adding that others were poised to “fill the vacuum.”

Clinton warned that many people in the region now understand what they didn’t know two or three decades ago -- namely “that much of a government’s wealth is going to a few instead of the many in too many countries.”

Clinton acknowledged that some countries in the region had made great strides toward better governance, while in many others people had tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order.

She hailed planning, development and innovation in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and congratulated vibrant civic groups in Oman that have helped improve the standard of living to among the highest in the Arab world, but warned that “in too many places, in too many ways, the region’s foundations are sinking into the sand.”

But the limits of Clinton’s message were clear in Yemen, a fragile, politically closed and impoverished nation that has become an outpost for al-Qaida-linked extremists planning attacks on the U.S. She said civil society in Yemen is viewed with deep suspicion by the government.

“There is not the level of cooperation that there needs to be to improve the lives of the Yemeni people and put Yemen on a firmer foundation going forward,” Clinton said. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

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