ABU DHABI // Gen Colin Powell, the former US secretary of state, has called for Col Muammar Qaddafi to step down, and said it is time for political reforms in the region.
“Qadaffi will soon come to realisation that murdering his own people is not a solution, and that it is time for him to step aside,” Gen Powell said during a conference in the capital yesterday.
He said that protests in Libya were the most concerning and the most violent in the Arab world, adding that Col Qaddafi is using the “desperate attempts of a desperate [man] to keep a stranglehold of a rule of his own people”.
Gen Powell was the senior military assistant to the former US secretary of defence Caspar Weinberger during the US air strikes on Libya in 1986.
He later served in many roles – including as chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff – that involved assessing Col Qaddafi’s regime before becoming the secretary of state.
He said some countries in the region “will be wise enough to reform themselves” to address people’s demands, and that was the only way to “make this tsunami just a wave”.
“The tsunami of reform that had reshaped Europe, reshaped Asia, reshaped Latin America, it’s trying to reshape Africa, and now that tsunami of reform has hit this region,” he said. “There is a new transparency throughout the world, especially now in this region, that is refreshing as people work hard to find the truth and to examine what they are being told. People now are demanding access to power that they believe is right to be theirs.
“No government in the region should stand still,” he said. “The tsunami wave that is passing through will eventually touch every shore.”
Political unrest across the Middle East and North Africa has included protests in two countries in the Gulf, Bahrain and Oman.
While fully supporting democratic movements, Gen Powell said that Tunisia and Egypt were “in a position to serve as models” , depending on the next steps they take.
He also said the media revolution had helped increase transparency in the region and fuelled the protests, adding that governments should not try to keep people from accessing media, including socially popular web sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
“Media revolution has broken all old barriers of seeking the truth, connected people in ways that no government can block or suppress, nor should they try,” he said. “Let openness flourish.”
During the Egyptian protests, there was a government-mandated internet blackout that left citizens disconnected from Facebook and Twitter, which had helped spur on the protests.
Gen Powell also said that “there is increasingly a desire throughout the world, in every part of the world [in people] that they should have more of a say in how they will be governed, how their nation’s wealth should be used, what rights they have to speak out, what rights they have to practice their religious beliefs one way or the other.”
He cited unemployment as a major concern for citizens, mentioning that one of the reasons his own parents were motivated to move from Jamaica to America 90 years ago was to pursue financial opportunity.
“People are not worried about politics as much as they are worried about a better life,” he said.
He also said people were more concerned about food, shelter, education, and health, so governments needed to focus on economic development and the creation of wealth, which will lift people out of poverty.
“It is not just political, it is economic, it is educational recognition of the new 21st-century, information-driven world,” he said. “Inspired visionary leadership can make this tsunami just a wave, a wave that can lift all those and take them all to a safe harbour.”