Clinton to Arab youth: 'The world ignores you at its peril'

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks to the press Saturday alongside members of Tunisia's government.

Story highlights

  • Hillary Clinton speaks to Tunisian students at a town hall
  • The world needs to pay attention to the needs of young people
  • 90% of the developing world is younger than 30, Clinton says
  • Clinton was in Tunis to discuss Syria, and now heads to Algeria and Morocco
Economic opportunity must be a priority if the revolutions sweeping the Middle East and North Africa are to succeed, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Saturday.
"We are making progress politically but more needs to be done economically," Clinton told a group of students here.
Clinton was on her second visit to Tunisia, the cradle of the Arab Spring which has seen the ouster of long-entrenched leaders in Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen.
In meetings with Tunisia's president, prime minister and young people, Clinton urged patience on economic and political reform and emphasized that the breakdown of economic systems is "recipe for frustration and instability that can be exploited by extremists and criminals around the world."
In a town hall with Tunisian students, Clinton spoke about the challenges posed by the so-called "youth bulge" in which the demographics of the world are bending toward a younger population.
Three billion people are now under the age of 30 -- 90% of them in the developing world, she noted.
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She cited estimates that North African and Middle Eastern countries will have to create 50 million jobs over the next decade to meet the needs of young people.
"In every region, responding to the needs and aspirations of young people is a crucial challenge for the future," Clinton said. "The world ignores you at its peril."
Clinton was in Tunis for a Friends of Syria meeting in which the international community gathered to discuss ways to end President Bashar al-Assad's bloody crackdown against protesters. She leaves Tunis for Algeria, and then Morocco
Clinton said that while the youth are bearing the brunt of the global economic crisis, they can also help with its recovery.
"Just as you led the way in the revolution here in Tunisia so too must young people lead the way in building vibrant economies," she said.
Clinton pledged to put youth issues on the international agenda, just as she did for women's rights. The United States, she said, would make the concerns and aspirations of young people a factor in its diplomacy and development work.
In the wake of the Arab Spring, United States has announced a massive economic package to help the countries in the region in transition, including trade, investment and entrepreneurship programs.
Tunisian youth played a key role in the uprising that ousted former President Tunisian President Zine el Abidine Ben Ali with the help of the internet and social media to spread their revolutionary message.
She urged the audience to hold Tunisia's new Islamic government to their word to embrace freedom of religion and equal rights for women.
"You were fearless on the front lines of the revolution, enduring tear gas and beatings," she said. "Now you are called to be courageous again as the guardians of your new democracy."