Barack Obama

Obama stresses Arab Spring 'progress'

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2012, 11:22pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2012, 11:25pm

US President Barack Obama insisted Tuesday there has been “progress” since the Arab Spring but said the recent turmoil in the Muslim world showed the hard task of achieving true democracy.

Under pressure over his handling of the Arab Spring from Republican opponents who have cast him as an apologist and an appeaser as they seek to oust him from office in November, Obama robustly defended his course.

Obama slammed the anti-Islamic film that has sparked unrest in Muslim countries as “disgusting” and vowed to hunt down those behind the attack in Benghazi that killed the US envoy to Libya and three other Americans.

But the president painted an optimistic overall picture of the current state of the Arab Spring, insisting that things were moving in the right direction despite the many challenges.

“So let us remember that this is a season of progress. For the first time in decades, Tunisians, Egyptians, and Libyans voted for new leaders in elections that were credible, competitive, and fair,” he said.

His upbeat message was framed in caution and contained a plea to Muslim leaders to work with the United States and the West towards truer, fairer democracy.

“The events of the last two weeks speak to the need for all of us to address honestly the tensions between the West and an Arab World moving to democracy,” he said.

“Just as we cannot solve every problem in the world, the United States has not, and will not, seek to dictate the outcome of democratic transitions abroad, and we do not expect other nations to agree with us on every issue.

“Nor do we assume that the violence of the past weeks, or the hateful speech by some individuals, represents the views of the overwhelming majority of Muslims -- any more than the views of the people who produced this video represent those of Americans,” he said.

Obama warned that the turmoil of recent weeks showed how the path to democracy remained treacherous for many Arab Spring countries even after democratic elections.

“True democracy demands that citizens cannot be thrown in jail because of what they believe, and businesses can be opened without paying a bribe,” he said.

“It depends on the freedom of citizens to speak their minds and assemble without fear; on the rule of law and due process that guarantees the rights of all people.

“In other words, true democracy -- real freedom -- is hard work. Those in power have to resist the temptation to crack down on dissent. In hard economic times, countries may be tempted to rally the people around perceived enemies, at home and abroad, rather than focusing on the painstaking work of reform.”