Washington — Arab countries transitioning to democracy are receiving help from the world’s eight largest economies to address their economic and social challenges following the collapse of dictatorships in the region.
Addressing the September 28 meeting in New York of foreign ministers from the Group of Eight (G8) Deauville Partnership with Arab Countries in Transition, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the partnership, first announced in May, is “taking practical steps to help more people in the region feel the benefits of democracy in their daily lives.”
Clinton said economic and social challenges “did not disappear with the dictators,” adding that too many people “still can’t find jobs, and young and growing populations crave a sense of opportunity and self-determination.”
She also said that because extremists in the region are “clearly determined to hijack these wars and revolutions to further their agendas and ideology,” the Deauville Partnership is trying to “empower those who would see their nations emerge as true democracies.”
Working with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the G8 is targeting economic support for small and medium-sized enterprises in the region, which Clinton said are the “growth engines” in any country’s economy.
“They create the bulk of new jobs and they spread wealth more broadly through more communities. And when people have the opportunity to unleash their talents and create something of their own, they are more invested in their communities, their countries and their new democracies,” she said.
The OECD is helping to find ways to loosen financial regulations to make it easier to start or expand a small business, and funds are being established to help small businesses obtain access to financing, she said.
RECOVERING STOLEN ASSETS
The United States has championed the Arab Forum on Asset Recovery to discuss specific steps for recovering assets that previous leaders stowed abroad, such as appointing attorneys to work with transition countries, to work with law enforcement and to help train their counterparts in the region, she said.
“People of the region need to see that their governments can be fair and just. So we are stepping up our efforts to return billions of dollars that were stolen or siphoned away over decades of cronyism and corruption,” Clinton said.
The Deauville Partnership is also helping to build accountable and transparent governing institutions through a transition fund to help Arab countries build court systems, ministries and other public institutions that are responsive to the needs of all their citizens, she said.
As dissidents and former prisoners take over as new leaders, they will have programs to help them transition “from protest to politics,” such as their recent participation in a U.S. training session that was designed for newly elected members of the United States Congress. They received “real-life insights into what it means to stand up for your beliefs and at the same time serve your constituents in a large and diverse democracy,” Clinton said.
Through the Deauville Partnership, the United States and other members of the G8 are supporting democracies that will unlock the full potential of those in transitioning countries and help them stand against the extremists who are trying to exploit popular frustrations, Clinton said.
“We are trying to help societies leave behind old enmities and look ahead to new opportunities. We are supporting civic groups who seek to strengthen their societies. We are backing reformers who build accountable institutions and combat corruption that stifles innovation, initiative, hope and dignity,” she said.
The secretary told Arab social and economic reformers that the United States and the G8 “stand with you and we will stand with you as long as it takes.”