Hillary Clinton urges strong role for women in Arab world

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Arab leaders to move “faster and further” in reform in a speech Tuesday at the U.S.-Islam World Forum Tuesday, rousing audience members as she pushed leaders to give citizens a bigger role in regime change in the Middle East and North Africa.

“The balance of power is no longer measured by counting tanks and missiles alone,” Clinton said. “Now strategists must factor in the growing influence of citizens themselves – connected, organized and frustrated.”

Specifically, Clinton called for an end to the marginalization of women and minorities, quoting the 2005 Arab Human Development Report that said women’s empowerment would be a key factor in determining the fate of the Arab world. She also noted women have been left out of “key transitional decision-making processes.”

“You cannot have a claim to democracy if half the population is left out,” she said. “All over the world we see living proof that Islam and women’s rights are compatible.”

Salam Al-Maryati, president of Muslim Public Affairs Council, an American Muslim advocacy group, said Clinton’s comments as a key American leader were refreshing.

“It’s the first time that an American official has really addressed each and every issue in the Middle East now,” he said. “It’s time to look forward with hope and not backward with anger. I loved that comment the most.”

Despite a positive response, Clinton elicited an outburst from one audience member, human rights activist Maryam Al-Khawaja,  who erupted at the conclusion of the secretary’s speech.

Al-Khawaja called out Clinton as she descended into the audience to greet guests.

“I told her the U.S. needed to start taking a stronger stand on the situation in Bahrain. After all, all [Gulf Corporation Council] countries are considered to be very close U.S. allies, and [the Bahraini government is] using U.S. arms to attack peaceful, unarmed citizens,” Al-Khawaja said. “My recommendation is that there needs to be a ban on arms in GCC countries. The U.S. has a responsibility to put a ban on arms.”