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Interview: Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle on the situation in Tunisia, Algeria and Egypt (Deutschlandfunk)

14.02.2011 - Interview

broadcast on 14 February 2011

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One can see in the people who have finally made it – women and children but mostly young men – that they feared for their lives during the journey from North Africa to Italy. This all seemed to have come to an end.But since the upheaval in Tunisia, refugees have once again begun arriving by the thousands on the island of Lampedusa.

I have German Foreign Minister and FDP head Guido Westerwelle on the line right now.He was in Tunisia just the day before yesterday, Saturday that is – he held a number of talks there and was able to see the situation for himself.Good morning, Mr Westerwelle.

Guido Westerwelle: Good morning, Mr Herter.

Your Italian colleague, Foreign Minister Frattini, has asked for assistance from other EU countries: ships, airplanes, helicopters and not least an EU crisis meeting.Will Italy get what it is demanding, including what it is demanding of you?

Of course, in Europe we will analyse the situation without delay. It will be discussed on the European level among my colleagues, and we will decide what measures need to be taken. But the decisive factor is and will remain for us to ensure that people have opportunities in their home countries, that they have their own free economic opportunities. That is why it is important for the watershed events in, for example, Tunisia to succeed in bringing greater democracy – and greater prosperity.

What do you have to say to people from Tunisia?Should they stay in their home country?

Yes, because the issue is that Tunisia needs to have an opportunity to develop now. We as a Federal Government are going to make a considerable effort for this democratic “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia to succeed, not only politically but also in giving the country real future prospects. And we cannot forget that much of the country has been downright exploited. The country is very well-positioned economically, but a lot of what has been put out in the economic system there was then autocratically taken out of the country by the autocratic government, or was at any rate not put back into economic circulation in Tunisia itself. This is why the time has come not only for more democracy but also for more prosperity, because the young people on the streets were demonstrating for both: they were demonstrating for freedom but also for more opportunities, more jobs, more work, more of a future.

The tourist industry is incredibly important for Tunisia, a significant source of income.Would you tell the German people, sure, go ahead and travel to Tunisia, there’s no cause for concern?

We have already altered the travel advisories in the direction of a return to normalcy. That is to say, the travel advisories were adjusted last week to reflect the improved situation. In particular, from our perspective travel to Tunis and to the Mediterranean beach destinations is once again possible. And we need to bear in mind that about 500,000 Germans alone visit Tunisia as tourists each year – figures that have, of course, nose-dived in recent weeks due to current events. But anyone who knows Tunisia knows that it is a very beautiful country, a land distinguished by its tremendous number of friendly people, so I expect the tourist industry as an essential sector of the Tunisian economy to pick up again in the coming weeks.

You are seeking to support change.Mr Westerwelle, would you stand by the statement that you always made sufficient calls for respecting human rights during your past visits to Arab countries?

I cannot speak for others, I can only speak for us. I can say with confidence that this is what we have done since I have been in office. But if you want to analyse the overall situation honestly and objectively, you must not forget that we also have strategic interests in the Middle East, which was also the case in recent years. Advancing the Middle East peace process has, for example, always been an important concern for German policy. That is to say, of course Egypt’s constructive role in the Middle East peace process was valued by governments around the world, and especially by the West. That’s a historical fact.

Demonstrations in Algeria were beaten down brutally on Saturday.400 people were arrested.Your reaction, Mr Westerwelle?

I’m very concerned about this development in Algeria, as that’s also a place where people are taking to the streets to demonstrate for their rights. They’re demonstrating for freedom, for new opportunities, for democracy, for the rule of law. These are universal rights and we appeal to the Algerian leadership to eschew all violence and to guarantee the rights of free assembly and freedom of expression. We see that the freedom movement that began in Tunisia is quite evidently a spark igniting the whole region. We in Europe are working to help the chances of this freedom movement. We as democrats stand on the side of democrats, and human rights are universal. This means that every person demonstrating there is exercising a human right, which is why we can only appeal urgently to the Algerian Government – which of course we are doing – in the hope that no violence occurs and that the people who are now taking to the streets are not beaten down.

Have you spoken on the phone with members of the Algerian Government?

No, that has not been the case so far. But of course you can assume that our will has been expressed clearly via the necessary channels of communication, and these are the opportunities that we have through Embassy contacts.

Are you considering summoning the Algerian ambassador?

I do not make speculations about such matters on morning radio programmes. These are decisions that are made and are then announced to the public afterward. But we have a broad range of diplomatic options for lending weight to our will. You can safely assume that – as in Tunisia and Egypt – we will work staunchly on behalf of non-violence, on behalf of ensuring and respecting human rights and the right to free assembly. In these situations internal clarity is always very important in talks; externally, however, you have to show a necessary measure of prudent reserve in order to avoid violence. In Egypt we noticed that things were teetering on the brink for days, weeks. Many now join us in celebrating the success of this people’s revolution. We see the men and women there and we share their excitement, we’re reminded of the images from our own history that we still have in our minds. But we must not forget that the situation remains very fragile, and that it is very important for it to remain peaceful, for the democrats to win. There can be no going back to autocratic systems or to religious extremism. This must not end with fundamentalists suddenly taking power.

This is also an issue in Algeria.What role does it play in your politics that the Islamists have always been quite strong in Algeria?

It does play a role. But it always plays a role in every country in the Arab world, which is why we are supporting the moderate forces and why we want a truly moderate and democratic transformation. And that’s also why we always expect treaties to be upheld. We must remember that Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace agreement with Israel. Those who know the region know that Egypt borders Israel, and also know how large Israel’s neighbours are, and Israel’s security is an unshakeable principle of German Government policy.

The military has pledged that treaties will be upheld, which is one initial success.Has the Federal Government been able to learn anything from the upheaval in Egypt, Mr Westerwelle?

First of all, I think we’ve all learned something: that the old artificial tenet that democracy is the opposite of stability has been refuted. It’s not a matter of democracy vs. stability, but rather of democratic stability, stable democracy. That’s why we have taken the necessary and appropriate steps in response. We want these developments towards freedom to be a true success story, we want them to usher in democratic structures, with new opportunities for people. In Tunisia we are going to make a tangible commitment – with job training programmes, with support for business activities. All of these things are keys to prosperity, and in Tunisia it should be visible, should be shown to the whole Arab world, that democracy also means new opportunities for prosperity. I think this is the best way to convince people of the value of the notion of freedom.

Democracy should pay off.Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle (FDP) on the upheaval in North Africa.Thank you very much for talking with us, and have a nice day!

Westerwelle: Good-bye!

Interview conducted by Gerwald Herter.Reproduced with the kind permission of www.dradio.de

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