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Western Leaders Back Democratization In The Arab World, With Caution

  • RFE/RL

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (right) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel confer before a meeting at the Munich Security Conference on February 5.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (right) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel confer before a meeting at the Munich Security Conference on February 5.

Speaking to the Munich Security Conference in Germany on February 5, Western leaders backed democratization in the Arab world but urged a phased transition instead of dramatic changes.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for Cairo to find a "peaceful and sensible" way forward.

"It is of vital importance to uphold the freedoms that we consider universal, like freedom of press, freedom of opinion, freedom of independent journalism, not only in Europe or America but also in Egypt," Merkel said. "Yesterday was relatively peaceful and we hope was a sign and will continue. There will be a change in Egypt. But it must be formed in a way that it will be peaceful and sensible."

Merkel also said that protests in the Middle East awaken memories of the events that ended communism in Eastern Europe.

"We are seeing pictures awaken memories of what we experienced in Europe...people who are shaking off their fear, people who are saying what they don't like, who name injustices by name," she said. "Who would we be if we did not say we stand on the side of these people who are expressing what bothers them?"

'Strategic Necessity'

Merkel is one of several Western leaders at the security conference in Munich who stepped up calls for the Egyptian government to listen to protesters' demands for reforms.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said change is a "strategic necessity" that will make Arab nations stronger and their people more prosperous and less susceptible to extremist ideologies.

"For all the friends in the region, including governments and people, the challenge is to help our partners take systematic steps to usher in a better future where people's voices are heard, their rights respected, and their aspirations met," she said. "This is not simply a matter of idealism. It is a strategic necessity."

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the longer change is put off in Egypt, the more likely we are to get "an Egypt we wouldn't welcome."

The crisis in Egypt dominated the annual global security conference in Munich as it moved into its second day. The conference began on February 4 with a warning from NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen that the turmoil in the Arab world risks destabilizing the global order.

Rasmussen urged European governments not to slash their defense budgets.

with agency reports
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