Clinton sounds warning on Egypt transition

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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Saturday that the Middle East faced a bumpy road on the transition to democracy, amid fears of what kind of regime could emerge in Egypt.

"There are risks with the transition to democracy," Clinton said at the Munich Security Conference in Germany ahead a Middle East Quartet meeting set to be dominated by the turmoil in the Arab world's most populous country.

"(The) transition can backslide into just another authoritarian regime," she said.

"Revolutions have overthrown dictators in the name of democracy, only to see the political process hijacked by new autocrats who use violence, deception, and rigged elections to stay in power, or to advance an agenda of extremism."

Clinton praised the restraint of Egyptian security forces in largely peaceful mass protests on Friday.

A transition in Egypt "will become immeasurably harder if there is not restraint by government and security forces, and we thankfully saw that yesterday with the very large but peaceful demonstration," she said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also sounded a note of caution against hurrying the transition, citing her own experience at the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 from the communist side of the Cold War barrier.

"Even though it is not directly comparable (with Egypt), we didn't want to wait a single day ... for reunification," Merkel said of her fellow East Germans.

"But when it took place in October (1990) and we saw the scale of the necessary transition we were quite happy that some people had prepared things properly."

British Prime Minister David Cameron agreed, but warned that the longer a power transition in Egypt took, the greater the risk of a government "that we wouldn't welcome."

Such concerns are particularly stark in Egypt's neighbour Israel, with fears that whoever replaces President Hosni Mubarak might tear up the two countries' 1979 peace treaty.

A poll published on Thursday indicated that 59 percent of Israelis predicted an Islamic regime in a post-Mubarak Egypt while only 21 percent foresaw a secular democratic government.

Clinton said that the "challenge is to help our (Middle East) partners take systematic steps to usher in a better future."

On Friday US President Barack Obama delivered a clear hint that Mubarak should step down now and make way for a political transition after 30 years in power, after days of mass protests calling for his ouster.

In an update of a warning speech she gave last month in Qatar calling for reform in Arab countries, Clinton said the Middle East was being battered by a "perfect storm of trends."

She spoke of too many young people seeking too few jobs in countries with depleting water and energy resources -- and expressing their frustrations on social-networking sites.

"This generation is rightly demanding that their governments become more effective, more responsive, and more open," the chief US diplomat told leaders and senior officials from Europe, Russia and Afghanistan.

"This is what has driven demonstrators into the streets of Tunis, Cairo, and cities throughout the region. The status quo is simply not sustainable," Clinton said.

"Across the region, there must be clear and real progress toward open, transparent, fair, and accountable systems."

© 2011 AFP

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