Clinton Launches Civil Society 2.0

Secretary Hillary Clinton delivered an important address at the Forum for the Future in Marrakech, Morocco today. Government officials and civil society leaders from across the region attended the forum and listened to the Secretary explain how the U.S. will implement the platform set forth by President Obama in Cairo.

Secretary Clinton emphasized that “true progress comes from within a society and cannot be imposed from the outside.” Therefore, the United States will partner with local governments and civil society organizations to “create sustainable change” in three key areas: the economy, science and technology and education. She also highlighted the importance of empowering women, without which there can be no “true progress.”

The U.S. will work towards “empowering individuals rather than promoting ideologies; listening and embracing others’ ideas rather than simply imposing our own; and pursuing partnerships that are sustainable and broad-based.” Towards this end, Secretary Clinton affirmed the importance of civil society that “helps to drive economic growth that benefits the greatest number of people [and] pushes political institutions to be agile and response to the people they serve.” With this in mind, she announced the launch of the Civil Society 2.0 initiative.

According to the State Department’s website on the new Civil Society 2.0 initiative, civil society organizations “improve the quality of people’s lives and protect their rights, hold leaders accountable to their constituents, shine light on abuses in both public and private sectors, and advance the rule of law and social justice.”  The initiative will therefore help these organizations “use digital technology to tell their stories, build their memberships and support bases, and connect to their community of peers around the world.”

Specifically, the initiative will: provide a team of experts to train civil society groups to increase their digital capacity (e.g. blogs, text messages, social networks); create partnerships with civil society and government to implement technology-based solutions to local problems; publish online training programs and curricula; create a platform for user-driven contributions to the online curricula; and allocate $5 million in grant funds for pilot programs in the MENA region to bolster new media and networking capabilities of civil society.

During a press conference the previous day, Secretary Clinton was asked for her assessment of democracy, human rights and governance in Morocco. She responded, “Morocco has made significant progress in those three areas. I believe that there is more work to be done, but that is a challenge that faces many countries.” During her speech today, she congratulated Morocco’s King Mohammed VI for “reforms that have granted new freedom to women who now bring their considerable talents to strengthening democratic institutions, accelerating economic growth, and broadening the work of civil society.”

UPDATE: The Christian Science Monitor reports that Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,  asserted that the United States will use “principled engagement” to promote democracy in the Middle East, “both to provide security and at the same time to build democratic institutions that protect their own people.” He also reaffirmed Secretary Clinton’s message that democratic reform must “occur from within society.”

The same article also quotes Moroccan journalist Hicham Houdaifa, who expressed his disappointment that Secretary Clinton did not address press freedom. According to the article, “Morocco Reporters Without Borders sought to draw attention to a recent crackdown on the Kingdom’s press, but was prevented from holding a press conference by Moroccan officials.”