U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed Middle East democracy activists to the State Department on Tuesday, asking for their input on how the United States can help advance freedom and human rights in the region.
Greeting the activists before the meeting, Clinton called on them to give their "honest assessments" of the best ways for the U.S. to offer support.
"We just want to continue encouraging you, supporting you where we can in your efforts to stand up for democracy, real democracy, and the human rights of every human being, and to help advance the cause of progress and freedom in every way that you are already doing so," said Clinton. "And we're very proud of what you are doing, and we know it's not an easy path to be on, but history has I think shown time and time again that you are on the right side of history."
Clinton said the U.S. has had its own struggle with human rights, including overcoming slavery and ensuring that women have the right to vote.
"So it's not like we are telling you that it's easy for us, because it's been challenging. But we had the luxury of doing it during 200 years of history where the whole world was not watching everything you did and said," said Clinton. You are in a way in a much more challenging environment because of the media and technology that now has an opinion about everything and can be used for the betterment of human society or for the undermining of progress."
The visiting activists hail from across the Middle East and North Africa, including Egypt, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen, which all have been undergoing political transitions in the wake of anti-government uprisings. The other activists come from Algeria, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian territories and Qatar. Many in the group also took part in the State Department's civil society dialogue earlier this month.
Clinton has been a strong advocate for supporting rights in the region and has been especially concerned with events in Syria. In a speech before the United Nations Security Council in March, she said the Syrian people "deserve the same opportunity to shape their future that the Tunisians, Egyptians, Libyans and Yemenis now enjoy."