Region on the move

17.02.2011 - Interview

Article by Federal Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, published in the Tagesspiegel on 17 February 2011


Tunisia, Egypt and an entire region now stand at a crossroads. A revolution issuing from the very heart of society, boosted by jasmine and Facebook, has chased away the autocratic rulers. The events are unprecedented in recent Arab history, and evoke memories of Europe in 1989.

A window onto freedom has opened – but the future remains uncertain. New democratic structures still need to be created. The danger of sliding back into authoritarianism remains. Democracy will only be able to flourish if freedom brings prosperity. Otherwise, the democratic changes could even benefit radical forces.

Tunisians and Egyptians must shape their own futures. But it is in the interest of Germany and Europe for this region in our immediate neighbourhood to develop towards democracy. That is why we are offering our support in the necessary process of transformation. The following points are key:

First, firmly entrenched democratic values and a lively civil society. The people of Tunis and Cairo have demonstrated for freedom and democratic rights. In Tunis I met a blogger who fought for change and is now in a position to help shape that change as a State Secretary. Freedom of opinion and of the press are essential in this. Training opportunities for journalists, for example, can help invigorate the new freedom.

Second, free and fair elections and setting up independent political parties. We will offer assistance with preparing and carrying out elections. But the growth of democracy is not a task that can be completed overnight. In particular, the newly forming powers from the democratic opposition need time to organize. Our political foundations can draw on their worldwide experience to encourage the development of a true multi-party system.

Third, setting up an independent judicial system, which is an indispensable pillar of every stable and democratic country. In Tunis a commission has been charged with reforming the judiciary. We have already offered to advise them.

Fourth, the creation of educational and development prospects. The hunger for education on the part of the region’s young people is capital for the future. Egypt has an exemplary tradition of education – Cairo is home to one of the oldest universities in the world. Every year, hundreds of thousands of high school graduates throng the job market. We believe in increased academic exchange, additional scholarships and a vocational training initiative so that these young people have a chance to use their potential.

Fifth, economic freedom and economic opportunities. People took to the streets because they wanted to make something of their lives. The young and growing populations of Egypt and Tunisia mean that these countries need annual economic growth of 6% in order for new jobs to be created. In Tunisia alone, more than 250 German companies are creating tens of thousands of jobs. The region needs investment in future growth sectors such as renewable energies, and Europe must open its markets to more products from the region.

Sixth, regional stability. Egypt has the largest population of any Arab country. What happens there affects the whole region. To date, Egypt has played a moderate and constructive role in the Middle East. We expect every future government in Cairo to commit to reconciliation with Israel and peace in the Middle East.

People in Tunisia and Egypt have dared to demand democracy. The enthusiasm on the streets must now be followed up with perseverance in restructuring the countries’ economies and societies. Only when the revolutionary spirit is channelled into sustainable change and new opportunities will people be dissuaded from boarding boats to seek their fortune elsewhere. This transformation will take a lot of work and will require partners. Europe as a neighbour must not refuse this responsibility.

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