By Al Pessin
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the pro-democracy demonstrations in Egypt and Tunisia should inspire other governments in the Middle East to enact reforms he says the United States has been advocating for years. In his first public comments since the Egyptian protests began two weeks ago, Gates also said the Egyptian military has done everything U.S. officials have asked, and made a contribution to what he called “the evolution of democracy” in the country.
Secretary Gates calls the protests in Tunisia and Egypt “a spontaneous manifestation of discontent,” and he says other governments in the region should take note, and take action.
“We have known about these grievances for a long time. And we have spoken to a number of governments in the region over time about the need to address these concerns. And so my hope would be other governments in the region, seeing this spontaneous action in both Tunisia and in Egypt, will take measures to begin moving in a positive direction toward addressing the political and economic grievances of their people,” Gates stated.
Gates said that could lead to “an orderly transition to greater democracy” and toward addressing the region’s economic problems. He expressed particular concern about countries that have a large number of unemployed young people. Those are the kind of people who sometimes turn to Islamic radicalism when their governments do not respond to their needs.
Secretary Gates also praised the Egyptian military’s conduct during the crisis. He has spoken several times with his Egyptian counterpart, and top U.S. military officers have also spoken to theirs. Officials say their main message was a call for restraint and professionalism, and a desire to keep military channels of communication open.
Gates said the Egyptian army, which has not used force against protesters and has protected them in some situations, has acted in an exemplary fashion.
“Frankly, they have done everything that we have indicated we would hope that they would do,” he said. “So, I would say that they have made a contribution to the evolution of democracy and what we are seeing in Egypt.”
Gates said it is “critical” now to move forward at “a steady pace” toward implementing the Egyptian government’s newly promised reforms.