Interview: Foreign Minister Westerwelle talks to the Frankfurter Rundschau and the Berliner Zeitung about the changes underway in North Africa and the Middle East

19.02.2011 - Interview

Question: Minister, do you believe in the domino theory – the theory that one state after the other in North Africa and the Middle East is going to turn democratic?

Countries are not dominoes. Number of dots aside, one domino is much like any other. Countries, on the other hand, are extremely dissimilar. That said, there is one factor the whole region shares, and that is the spark of freedom. It is currently inspiring a lot of young people to take to the streets for their future.

Question: Should the West not be supporting this movement more now than those in Tunisia and Egypt?

Since the beginning of the Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia, there have been two tenets to our policy. As democrats, we are firmly on the side of other democrats, because we are convinced that human rights are universal. However, we must avoid giving the impression that these demonstrations are a Western concern and that the West is trying to tell the people of these countries what to do.

Question: That sounds very theoretical.

When I visited Tunisia a week ago, I made concrete proposals for a transformation partnership. The response was very positive. I will shortly also visit Egypt and again offer our help there.

Question: But if nothing else is done to assist them, what does it help demonstrators in Algeria or Bahrain to hear that the West is on their side?

The international community’s united stance is a great asset. We saw the truth of that in Tunisia and Egypt. I am extremely concerned about the violent clashes in Bahrain and other states in the region, and I urge the Governments of these countries to refrain from using violence against demonstrators and actively to protect their peoples’ right to freedom of expression. We should also consider that the best boost for the freedom movement in the region is the fact that the people living where it all began are starting to see the fruits of democratic development.

Question: What fruits can you bring to Tunisia and Egypt?

We can provide support for the development of civil society and independent justice systems, opportunities for education, student and youth exchanges as well as media training to enable a diversified media landscape to flourish. However, the most important thing is, as ever, to assist economic development. People have not taken to the streets for democracy alone but also for jobs and prospects. That is also the only way for people to remain in their countries rather than try desperately to get to Europe. This means opening our markets more to products from Tunisia.

Question: Are you worried that Tunisia may fall through the cracks among all the upheaval in Egypt and unrest in other countries?

I do not want Tunisia, the place where the whole Jasmine Revolution started, to be forgotten just because the cameras are now pointed at other countries. Tunisia could stand as evidence that democracy brings people more of a future, that Islam and democracy, contrary to expectations, are extremely compatible and that it is not, as many previously thought, repressing liberties that ensures stability, it is people having freedom that creates stability.

Question: If it is true that we are seeing a historic turn-around in the region, should Europeans not also be helping on a really big scale, like another Marshall Plan perhaps?

I would not put it like that, but you have the right idea. Tunisia, after all, already has good infrastructure and the educated middle classes which have provided the motor for its revolution. In Egypt, on the other hand, the movement has a much broader base. I have set up working groups on support for both countries. Supporting them lies in our own fundamental interest.

Question: Do you say that because of the refugees?

We have no wish to take in every refugee from North Africa, nor can we do so. Particularly Tunisia urgently needs its people if it is to effect its democratic renaissance. What is more, we are not talking about political refugees here but about people being shipped across the sea in life-threatening conditions by criminal profiteers. Action is needed now to ensure that these countries do not end up with new autocrats or religious extremists in power.

Question: The Muslim Brotherhood is now being regarded as one of the negotiating parties in Egypt.Does that change our stance towards Hamas in the Palestinian territories?

Hamas will not be party to any talks while it refuses to declare readiness to enter into peaceful dialogue with Israel and instead continues to support acts of terrorism perpetrated against Israeli citizens. Israel’s security is one of Germany’s fundamental principles. That is why we expect Egypt to ensure that the change it is undergoing continues to serve the cause of peace in both domestic and external affairs.

Question: What concrete offers will you make Egypt when you visit the country?

I will make offers similar to those I made Tunisia. I can easily imagine, for instance, that we will support an international conference in Egypt on the country’s future along the lines of what is now being planned in Tunisia. But we can only make offers. In the end, it will have to be the Egyptians who decide which offers it makes sense to them to accept.

This interview was conducted by Damir Fras and Holger Schmale.

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