In an interview he gave on 2 February Minister of State Werner Hoyer commented on the spirit of change sweeping the Arab world. The questions were put by Egge Weers.
What began in Tunisia has rapidly spread to other parts of the Arab world. The spirit of change now has Egypt completely in its grip. How do you see these developments?
Just a short while ago the events of the past few weeks would have been deemed quite impossible. Yet however much the situation in these countries may differ, one thing is very clear: ordinary people are angry and disgusted with their rulers, who for decades have failed to live up to their responsibilities towards all sections – and I emphasize all sections – of society. The Arab republics’ traditional model – the security state under “hereditary presidents” – has run its course, a new era has dawned. The spirit of change now evident in large parts of the Arab world I see not so much as a threat to stability but above all as a tremendous opportunity for political and social modernization. We should support those now struggling for freedom, tolerance and the rule of law – and especially all efforts directed to creating a new and stable constitutional order based on freedom.
Former Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher used to say freedom was an idea that made history and as such, it would always win the day. Is what we’re now witnessing particularly in Tunisia but also in Egypt a defining moment in history?
Yes, Genscher’s been proved right yet again. How powerful this yearning for freedom is that’s now sweeping the Arab world is something we didn’t fully realize. That makes it all the more incumbent on us now to support this movement. For while we all hope to see progress in the direction of greater freedom and respect for the rule of law, there’s of course also a danger the present rather chaotic situation will generate calls for a revamped authoritarian regime – in the worst case, one with radical Islamist leanings. A fantastic opportunity would have been missed.
Is this now the hour of Mediterranean dialogue, a dialogue conducted by NATO, the EU and the OSCE with the Arab world and North Africa?.
As organizations, NATO, the EU and the OSCE exemplify our commitment to enlightened, democratic and rule of law values. They demonstrate that freedom, security and prosperity cannot be achieved at others’ expense: genuine gains require that everyone must benefit. What we’re now seeing is that people in other parts of the world with other traditions also find this model highly attractive. This gives us a great opportunity to put our relations with the Arab world onto a qualitatively new footing. The EU in particular must actively support the democratic aspirations of our southern partner countries such as Egypt. This support should cover a wide spectrum, from strengthening civil society and election assistance to advising on security and justice sector reform.
If this movement for change is successful, what will that mean for the Palestinian question and other issues?
Current developments may well generate positive momentum for resolving this question. Up till now Egypt has been seen as an influential player and a constant in this whole complex, but now it’s in the grip of change. This could lead to a growing recognition of the need for a peace process that is self-sustaining rather than one guaranteed by some external force supposedly representing stability. With this kind of process, there’s a risk of course of ending up with a state and constitution that are not dedicated to peace and freedom. That’s a danger Israel is very understandably concerned about.