U.S. says cannot predict how Mideast revolts play out

By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Friday said it was impossible to predict whether democratic upheavals in the Middle East would take root, noting in its annual rights report that Egypt has yet to end its state of emergency.

The spread of camera-enabled mobile phones and online video has dramatically amplified democratic protests around the world but also produced a government backlash seeking a tighter grip on information flows, the U.S. State Department said.

The survey of human rights in 194 countries — but not the United States — identified three trends: an explosion of civil society groups promoting rights, the growing importance global communications networks, and greater violence and discrimination against vulnerable racial, religious and ethnic minorities.

The report, covering 2010, did not address in detail the popular revolutions that toppled long-time authoritarian leaders in Tunisia and Egypt and that have led to power struggles in Bahrain, Libya, Yemen and other Arab nations.

“At this moment, we cannot predict the outcome of these changes and we will not know the lasting impacts for years to come,” the State Department said in the introduction of its 2010 “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” document.

“The United States will continue to monitor the situations in these countries closely, knowing that the transition to democracy is not automatic and will take time and careful attention,” it added.

The Obama administration, and much of the world, has been stunned by pace of the upheavals sparked by a Tunisian man who immolated himself in a protest against his treatment by local authorities.

The resulting protests forced former Tunisian strongman Zine al-Abedine Ben Ali into exile in January and toppled Egypt’s long-time leader Hosni Mubarak in February.

In the report, the United States noted that the military committee that took control of Egypt in February has not yet ended the state of emergency that has been in place since the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

“We await the lifting of the state of emergency,” the report said, noting that the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has promised to do so before parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for September.

The State Department said that many countries have ramped up their efforts to control nongovernmental groups that press for civil liberties, citing a new law in Ethiopia that cut the number of such groups to 1,655 from 3,522.

It also cited government efforts to control the flow of information over the Internet, saying that Saudi Arabia restricted access and violated its citizens’ online privacy and that China “tightly controlled content on and access to the Internet and detained those who criticized the government.”

(Editing by Vicki Allen)

U.S. says cannot predict how Mideast revolts play out