Speech byl Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle to the German Bundestag on the situation in Egypt

09.02.2011 - Speech

Mr President, Ladies and gentlemen,

What we are witnessing at present in Egypt, but not only there, is a turning point, a historic watershed. We don’t know how the situation in Egypt, in the Arab world countries or in North Africa will develop. However, it’s already clear that nothing will be as it was before. That applies not only to the situation within the societies concerned but also to Europe and its strategic relations with neighbouring regions.

I want to start by stating categorically that the German Government believes the developments in Egypt offer a great opportunity for more democracy. We as democrats stand on the side of democrats.

We stand unequivocally on the side of human rights. We stand unequivocally on the side of those fighting for civil rights. However, we want to state just as clearly that it’s not up to us who governs the Egyptian people. Rather, it’s up to the Egyptian people. That’s why we want to see free and fair elections.

We have formulated clear expectations of the Egyptian side and communicated them in one-on-one encounters: the Chancellor in her talks with President Mubarak, I myself in the course of numerous conversations with Vice-President Suleiman and Egypt’s Foreign Minister, as well as with the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, who has considerable influence in Egypt, and with representatives of the opposition, for example with Mr ElBaradei, who we know well from other contexts and from offices he has held in the past.

Our expectations are quite concrete: first of all, we want to see the lifting of the state of emergency, the end of the open or covert intimidation of demonstrators and the media; third, the release of all political prisoners; fourth, the immediate implementation of constitutional reforms. We want human rights to be respected; we say that to every country and we’re saying it now to the Egyptian Government. This is not undue meddling in another state’s domestic affairs, for we have a duty to interfere in internal affairs when human rights are at stake. This is in keeping with the guiding principles of our interest-led and value-oriented foreign policy.

The claim that a value-oriented foreign policy and an interest-led foreign policy are not compatible is outdated. We should have learned from our own German history that a change through trade is indeed possible and to be encouraged. What we are witnessing at present is the result of globalization. Contrary to the opinion of those who have repeatedly warned against globalization, claiming it is some kind of capitalist phenomenon, we are now seeing a globalization of enlightenment, a globalization of values and a globalization of civil liberties. That is the true essence of globalization: the interlinking of societies, a global society which means that we will have to increasingly deal with global domestic policy. Globalization is therefore not something which has to be resisted. Rather, globalization implies a globalization of values and attitudes. What we’re seeing on the streets at the present time is the positive side of globalization.

Nor is this a question of “either/or”. It’s not about opting for either stability or democracy – that, too, is an outdated assumption – it’s about stable democracy. But how can we achieve that? We won’t achieve it by making vociferous demands which create the impression that the concern of the demonstrators we are currently observing in Egypt is a concern of the West, a concern of foreign governments. That’s what’s happening at the moment in some political quarters. We therefore have to make it very clear that we support a free, progressive movement in Egypt. However, it goes without saying that the Egyptian people has to chose its own opinion leaders. Those demanding that the German Government make vociferous demands so that they can score points at home are, in truth, merely trying to further their own parties’ interests in Germany. They are not serving the interests of democracy in Egypt.

We have to be clear about what we want at home and adopt such an astute approach in our foreign policy that we don’t play into the hands of those who, in reality, don’t want democracy but either the perpetuation of the current system, another autocratic system or even religious fundamentalism or extremism. We have to pay close attention to that. The Egyptian people is a great people, it’s a self-confident people, it’s a proud people and there’s no doubt that it has the right to decide for itself who will lead it and who will be sent into opposition. It’s not our decision, it’s the decision of the Egyptians themselves.

We want to help, but we don’t want to tell people what to think. We want to provide assistance within the scope of a transformation partnership. Germany presented this strategy to the European Union. It includes, for example, the development of democratic parties and the promotion of human rights. We want to intensify the rule of law dialogue, we want to help modernize the judicial system if the Egyptians will accept our support. We can advise on the drafting of a democratic constitution, as well as on the development of a fair and transparent electoral system and on support for the work of free and independent media. That’s what it’s all about. We want to help, we want to provide support. We want to move the process in the right direction.

The Egyptian Government has set up a commission to reform the constitution. It is also to investigate the violence in Tahrir Square. However, it’s important to point out that such announcements aren’t worth much, it’s only actions that count. If the Egyptian Government declares that it wants to investigate the violence then that’s good news but it has to be followed by action. We will judge all our interlocutors by their concrete actions and not by their words. For us, that is absolutely crystal clear.

Conversely, we also have to make our contribution in the international community. The new instrument in the European Union, a neighbourhood strategy, can be expanded. Furthermore, the evolution of civil societies is very much in our interest. For example, we are engaged in talks with political foundations – across party lines, of course. We’ve seen in the past that this can help strengthen a civil society. All those saying now that there have to be elections in Egypt tomorrow should remember that the moderate democratic forces in the opposition would have little chance of winning because they are not yet sufficiently organized throughout the country.

Every change needs orderly structures. If there are no fair elections, the moderate opposition, the moderate democratic forces, have no hope of campaigning for themselves and their ideas nationwide.

Let me make two final points. We must never forget that the Middle East conflict plays a role in all of these debates; that applies not only to Egypt. It was therefore right that the Middle East Quartet sent another clear message from Munich last Saturday. It’s important that the Middle East Quartet continues to address this issue. We want to help ensure that the peace talks have a chance of succeeding. Stability through progress in the Middle East peace process would make a necessary and important contribution. That would encourage all partners in the region.

After taking part in a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I want to expressly thank all parliamentary groups for paying tribute to the work done by the courageous men and women at our Embassy and consulates. Their commitment shouldn’t be taken for granted. Our nationals were able to leave the country thanks to these men and women. Embassy staff have risked life and limb and they are still in Egypt helping their fellow Germans. I believe that deserves our recognition across party lines and in all parliamentary groups.

Thank you very much.

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