President Obama delivered a major speech on the Middle East and North Africa Thursday afternoon in which he praised the upheaval that has swept the region and recast U.S. relations with the Arab world. Obama pledged economic backing for nations that adopt democratic reforms and called on Israel and Palestine to negotiate a peace deal.
“The status quo is not sustainable. Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder,” Obama said, adding that recent events have provided “an historic opportunity” to promote democratic change.
The president compared the Arab Spring to the American Revolution and the civil rights movement and said that the “actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has built up for years.” As a result of the change taking place in the region, he said, the U.S. must expand its role and policies in dealing with Arab nations beyond fighting terrorism and the spread of nuclear weapons, providing security and negotiating Arab-Israeli peace.
“We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator. There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity,” Obama said. “Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise. But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.”
Obama announced plans to relieve Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt and to provide the nation with an additional $1 billion for infrastructure and job creation. The U.S. also will help newly democratic governments recover stolen assets. Obama said that the White House is working with Congress to increase investment in Tunisia and Egypt and aid them in their transition and will launch a Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa.
“Prosperity also requires tearing down walls that stand in the way of progress—the corruption of elites who steal from their people; the red tape that stops an idea from becoming a business; the patronage that distributes wealth based on tribe or sect,” the president said. “We will help governments meet international obligations, and invest efforts at anti-corruption—by working with parliamentarians who are developing reforms, and activists who use technology to increase transparency and hold government accountable.”
(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)