US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton today delivered a stark warning to Arab leaders that they will face growing unrest, extremism and even rebellion unless they quickly address depleting oil and water reserves and enact real economic and political reform.
Wrapping up a four-nation tour of US allies in the Gulf with unusually blunt remarks to a regional development conference in the Qatari capital of Doha, Mrs Clinton said economic and political space must be opened up for the Arab world's exploding youth population, women and minorities.
Without that, respect for human rights, improved business climates and an end to pervasive corruption, she said young people and others will increasingly turn to radicalism and violence that will bleed outside the region, threatening not only Middle Eastern stability and security but the rest of the world.
"In too many places, in too many ways, the region's foundations are sinking into the sand," she told officials at the Forum for the Future conference. "The new and dynamic Middle East ... needs firmer ground if it is to take root and grow everywhere."
Mrs Clinton made her comments after visiting the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Yemen and Qatar. During her trip, civil unrest continued unabated in Tunisia and Algeria, Egypt remained tense after disputed elections and a political crisis hit Lebanon, underscoring what Mrs Clinton said where deep concerns about trends in the Middle East.
"While some countries have made great strides in governance, in many others, people have grown tired of corrupt institutions and a stagnant political order," she said. She appealed for leaders to heed calls to rein in rampant graft and offer all of their people a better way of life.
"Those who cling to the status quo may be able to hold back the full impact of their countries' problems for a little while, but not forever," Mrs Clinton said. "If leaders don't offer a positive vision and give young people meaningful ways to contribute, others will fill the vacuum."
"Extremist elements, terrorist groups and others who would prey on desperation and poverty are already out there appealing for allegiance and competing for influence," she said. "This is a critical moment and this is a test of leadership for all of us."
Improving the climate for business and outside investment is one approach, she said. Critical to that is fighting corruption, she said, reeling off a list of complaints about payoffs she had heard from businesspeople around the broader Middle East and North Africa.
"There needs to be a concerted, constant chorus from the business community to end the corruption," Mrs Clinton said, her voice quavering with frustration.
At each of her stops in the Gulf, she met members of civil society, including women's rights activists, opposition leaders and students, encouraging them to speak out for reforms they see as necessary. She urged governments to listen to their citizens and to provide them job opportunities.
She hailed planning, development and innovation in Abu Dhabi and Dubai and congratulated vibrant civic groups in Oman that have helped improve the standard of living to among the highest in the Arab world.
But the limits of Mrs Clinton's message were clear in Yemen, a fragile, politically closed and impoverished nation that is a critical US ally in the war on terrorism. She said civil society in Yemen is viewed with deep suspicion by the government.
"There is not the level of cooperation that there needs to be to improve the lives of the Yemeni people and put Yemen on a firmer foundation going forward," she said.
Developments in Yemen appeared to underscore that concern.
A day after Mrs Clinton met Yemeni opposition leaders at the US Embassy in Sanaa, authorities in Yemen announced Wednesday that citizens must get prior approval before entering a foreign embassy. Yemen's official news agency Saba said the conditions were security precautions and part of efforts to fight terrorism and to preserve the embassies' security.