Policy Statement by Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in the German Bundestag on the watershed events in the Arab world

16.03.2011 - Speech

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Mr President, ladies and gentlemen,

North Africa and the Arab world have reached a turning-point in their history. The freedom movement that began as the Jasmine Revolution on the streets of Tunisia is now sweeping through many other countries. As democrats, we stand by other democrats. We Germans know what joy it meant to see a peaceful revolution unfold here in our own country, restoring German unity and bringing Europe together again. Our country is founded on the values of freedom, the same values that now inspire millions throughout North Africa and the Arab world. These nations can count here on Germany’s support.

The yearning for freedom is not confined to any particular culture or region, let alone any particular religion. The assumption that people in some cultures can be denied freedom for years on end is utter nonsense. A culture founded on the denial of freedom is a contradiction in terms. Denial of freedom is a negation of all that culture stands for. There is another lesson, too, we can learn from recent events. What guarantees a country’s stability are not autocratic regimes but stable, thriving societies. Stable democracies, democratic stability – that’s what we want to see.

A few days ago in Morocco King Mohammed VI launched a constitutional reform process taking up many of the demands voiced by people up and down the country. That is of course encouraging, but it’s action that counts. Morocco stands as an example of how governments can embrace an agenda aimed at building a more open and democratic society.

We are gravely concerned by developments in Yemen, where the protests supported by large sections of society are being crushed with increasing brutality. On my visit to Yemen a year ago I strongly impressed on President Salih that a peaceful modus vivendi involving all sections of Yemeni society was absolutely crucial for his country’s stability. Today we can only conclude this time has not been well spent, for the situation in Yemen has deteriorated dramatically.

We are also concerned by the alarming reports from Bahrain. We call on all parties there to open a dialogue and we call on the countries of the region to exercise restraint. The escalating violence must stop. What’s needed now is a serious dialogue, a national dialogue between the Government and the Opposition. The country must solve its problems by itself.

In Iran the regime has recently cracked down once again on the Opposition with extreme brutality. Intended as a demonstration of strength, this was in fact a demonstration of weakness.

We call on the Iranian regime to end immediately the clampdown on the Opposition and grant the Iranian people the freedoms that are theirs by right.

In many other countries in the Middle East the yearning for freedom and participation, dignity and justice is growing stronger day by day and will not be denied. The situation in the region varies from country to country. That’s why we need political responses geared to the country in question. What people all over the region crave more than anything else, however, is freedom, participation and new opportunities.

Let me at this point pay tribute to the women and men of the Bundeswehr, the members of our Foreign Service and the many aid agencies involved in evacuating German nationals from Libya and helping large numbers of Egyptian refugees return home to their families. When such operations go well, there’s a tendency to think it was all quite simple. But I know it was anything but simple. That’s why I want to offer them all here in Parliament – on behalf of everyone present, I hope – my profound thanks.

In Libya a dictator is waging war against his own people. In the light of this ongoing crime, the international community is of one mind: the dictator has to go. His own actions have deprived Colonel Gaddafi of any claim to be part of this community. He has forfeited every vestige of legitimacy. The German Government will not be deflected from this firm and clear-cut stand by any poisoned compliments from the dictator.

Our calls for the speedy imposition of sanctions have met with broad support in the United Nations Security Council and the European Union. The ruling family’s assets abroad have been frozen. Travel bans are in place. In the Security Council, in the European Union and also among our G8 partners – as was clear at yesterday’s meeting of Foreign Ministers – there is consensus that the dictator must be called to account for this brutal campaign against his own people. That will be the job of the International Criminal Court. We will be pushing in New York for the political pressure to be stepped up until that goal is reached. Today and in the days ahead we will be consulting in the United Nations Security Council over the next steps to be taken. The German Government will be pushing in New York for still more far-reaching economic and financial sanctions. Our aim is – as far as humanly possible – to stop the flow of funds into Gaddafi’s system. We want to deprive the regime of the resources on which its operations depend, the resources to wage war on its own population.

The images and reports reaching us of Gaddafi’s advancing troops, of fighting and bloodshed, of devastated towns in the east of Libya are highly disturbing. But the supposedly simple solution of a no-fly zone raises more questions and poses more problems than it is likely to solve. A no-fly zone is an innocuous term that yet cannot conceal the reality: what we’re talking about here is military intervention. It’s not even clear how such a zone could be effective in a country like Libya. This is a country, let me remind you, around four times larger than Germany.

The outcome of any such step could be the precise opposite of what we intend – and that must not be allowed to happen. For if our actions ultimately lead to greater violence rather than greater freedom and peace, that would be disastrous. Instead of strengthening democratic movements across North Africa, such an outcome would weaken them. Every step must also be analysed in terms of its implications for the countries in North Africa that, since the Jasmine Revolution, have been pursuing a path towards democracy and greater freedom.

The impact of any military operation would be felt not only in Libya but throughout North Africa and across the whole Arab world. We understand that all options are being considered. A no-fly zone, however, means military intervention. No one should delude themselves this is simply a matter of putting up a traffic sign. To operate an effective no-fly zone, Libya’s air defence forces must first be taken out – clearly a military operation. The German Government therefore views military intervention in the form of a no-fly zone with considerable scepticism. We do not want to become, and must not become, a conflict party in any civil war in North Africa. We do not want to start down some slippery slope leading eventually to German soldiers being involved in a war in Libya.

But what happens if the attacks on the ground continue? Do we then have to launch air strikes against Gaddafi’s tanks? And if that’s not enough, do we then have to send in ground troops? The alternative is not inaction but targeted sanctions that step up the pressure on Gaddafi. Over the past few days we have also made first contact with the National Transition Council. We see it as an important political interlocutor.

Given the appalling brutality of what’s happening, deciding on the right course is anything but easy. As a member of the Security Council, Germany bears special responsibility for international security in this critical situation. We respect and welcome last weekend’s decision by the Arab League. However, we believe prime responsibility here for further action on behalf of the international community lies with the countries of the region. That will also shape our approach at the deliberations in New York.

A stable democracy cannot be created overnight. This is a process that can take years or sometimes decades. We are keen to help countries in North Africa become strong, viable democracies rooted in thriving civil societies. What we’re seeing now in the Arab world is the dawn of a new era offering myriad opportunities. But of course it’s going to be a long haul, not just for the nations of this region but also for us. This Arab spring presents a historic opportunity for peace and prosperity throughout the region, from which the whole world stands to gain. Germany and Europe stand ready to help as partners in building successful democracies in North Africa and other parts of the Arab world.

The democratic movements in Tunisia and Egypt were initiated by perfectly ordinary people and supported by large sections of society. We have the greatest admiration for the courage shown by all those who took unarmed to the streets to demonstrate peacefully against their ruling elites. In the streets of Tunis young women and men can speak freely perhaps for the first time in their lives. For the first time in their lives they feel they can shape their own future. What kind of life they want is up to them, they realize.

What people in Tunisia hope for and dream about is hardly different from our own wishes and dreams. To live your life in freedom, dignity and justice – this is a hope we share with people on the other side of the Mediterranean and everywhere else in the world. Of course we also see images of boats full of refugees heading for Lampedusa. Clearly here in Europe we cannot take in everyone from North Africa. What we want to do is help people to see a bright future for themselves in their own country. For us to take action now to help people now on the ground – that’s the best way to stem the exodus.

The new beginning we are witnessing here represents a great opportunity for both sides. It is an opportunity for the countries on the northern and southern edges of the Mediterranean to come together in a new and productive constellation. And it is an opportunity for Germany. When their new-found freedom allows all the creativity and talents within these societies to flourish, the new middle classes in North Africa could become our next great partners – and business partners. In turn, our investments and trade can improve the economic opportunities available to the people there, particularly the young.

What I experienced in Tahrir Square on behalf, so to speak, of you and many other citizens, remains unforgettable: hundreds of people spontaneously gathering in Tahrir Square because they had heard a German delegation was there, and shouting “Long live Egypt! Long live Germany!” That was an expression of the high levels of respect we have gained in Egypt. It demonstrates that our policy of standing on the side of democratic change without undermining the sovereignty of this proud Egyptian people was the right one. However, it was also an expression of the high expectations that particularly young people in Egypt have of our country.

We offered Tunisia and Egypt transformation partnerships very early on, out of a desire to do the best we could to support the democratic revolution from the very beginning. This Government’s handwriting can be detected in large parts of the plan which the European Union has now agreed on for a Partnership for Democracy and Shared Prosperity.

The focus here is on four things. Firstly – the European Neighbourhood Policy needs to be reconfigured. Its strategic goals and principles are still valid. However, we will now link European Union assistance more strongly to clear expectations. Last Friday, the European Council agreed that we would link what we do for our partners across the Mediterranean to visible progress on human rights, the rule of law, independent justice systems and the fight against corruption. One clear way for countries to demonstrate their will to embark on a new chapter is to subscribe to international human rights commitments – such as the Tunisian Government put on the agenda of its first cabinet meeting after Ben Ali was removed.

Secondly, we are underpinning the establishment and development of civil society. The new political and social forces driving this revolution are still in the embryonic stage. They are very sparsely organized, and they need our support; I remember, for example, the striking meeting I had with the President of the Tunisian League for the Defence of Human Rights. To provide this support, we intend to use the established contacts we have through our Embassies as well as networks of trade unions, business associations and Parliamentary Friendship Groups.

There is a special role to be played here by the political foundations we encountered in Tunis and in Cairo, whose equal you would be hard pressed to find in Europe. They have a dense network of contacts, many of whom were actively involved in the freedom movement. We intend to make increased use of their long years of experience and pass it on to our new partners.

Thirdly, we are promoting comprehensive democratization. The Governments in Tunis and Cairo are interim governments which arose in a time of upheaval. Even in the short weeks since my visit, some of the people who were in power have already been replaced by others. They still lack democratic legitimacy. If they are to transform their societies governments need to have a majority of the people behind them. There is not much time for the independent formation of political will – and even less experience of such matters to fall back on. That is why we have offered to help with any issue related to preparing or conducting free and fair elections.

Fourthly, it will be crucial to the success of this revolution in the Arab world for people to enjoy the fruits of their protest in their day-to-day lives. Just like the educated living in the bosom of society, poor and marginalized young men and women protested too, calling not only for freedom but also for better prospects. If the political revolution is to be successful, political developments must go hand in hand with economic and social progress. If we want to see it be successful, then we need to provide swift, targeted help in the economic sector too. Above all, I am talking here about helping people to help themselves.

The tourism industry plays a significant role, but we also need to allow more trade and open our markets in Europe. Agricultural exports, which are very important for these countries, will need to be on our agenda in Brussels.

At the same time, we intend to create the conditions for even more companies to become active in the region – adding to the 270 German companies which currently invest in Tunisia alone. Legal certainty needs to be strengthened in these countries, as private investment cannot otherwise be expected to flood in. What we offer is a pact between North and South which is comprehensive and established for the long term.

However, there is one subject which will be more crucial than any other to the future of these countries and these societies in the medium and long term, and that is education. Education is the capital on which the future will be built, which is as true for Germany – as we know – as it is for North Africa. This Government is going to ask the German Bundestag to make a total of 100 million euro available over the coming two years to fund partnerships with North Africa and the Middle East. The Cabinet made the decision this morning. Of that amount, 40 million euro will be used to finance a scholarship programme and education partnerships with schools and universities in these countries.

We intend our societies to gain mutual benefit from our young people getting connected and from exchanging expertise as well as social values and standards. With Government Ministers Annette Schavan, Dirk Niebel and Rainer Brüderle, we will develop additional educational opportunities – particularly in vocational training, one of the German education system’s greatest strengths.

There is another important question we need to turn our attention to. What consequences will the revolution in the Arab world have for our partner Israel? The historic changes taking effect in the region must not lead to a decrease in Israel’s security. Germany will keep a particularly watchful eye on this. We are working to see Israel’s future secured in a more stable and democratic neighbourhood. In this respect, the upheaval throughout the region makes finding a just two-state solution to the Middle East conflict all the more urgent. We need to be bold and farsighted, not hesitant and indecisive, if we are finally to find a way forward for the deadlocked peace talks.

Supporting the revolution in the Arab world is what both our values and our interests demand. In so doing, however, we must never forget that every country has to decide its own destiny. Just as all individuals owe one another respect, all countries must respect each other too. We cannot boss other countries around. Reforms will only last if they are driven by the North African societies themselves.

We have laid out what help we can offer, assisting the reform of political institutions and the administrative system, helping cement and strengthen freedom of opinion, of the press and of religion, and supporting the development of education systems. Our priority is that our assistance be swift but not merely short-term. We are working towards a long-term partnership, a partnership of equals. Nobody can say with any certainty today what the future holds for North Africa and the Arab world. It would be rash to presume that transformation was easy or that freedom had already won.

In many places, the democracy movement still needs to stabilize and even make a real start in organizing itself. In many places, the old guard are still holding on tight to the reins, still have money and influence. The next six months will be a crucial time for political developments – but what has happened can certainly not be undone.

I am certain that what has been begun here will succeed in the end. The democracy movement is not being driven from outside. In each country, it originates in the heart of society. These revolutions were not started by the West. They are also not being directed by the West. Claims to the contrary are nothing but propaganda, spread by those who may be driving at many things but certainly not at safeguarding their peoples’ freedom.

Every country must choose its own path, every society go down its own road. We will offer our advice and our active assistance, but we will do so with respect, acknowledging the great courage that these people possess.

Over the past few months, the peoples of the Arab world have been taking their future into their own hands. They are drawing up the route to freedom for themselves, but we in Germany, we in Europe, are at their side.

I thank you for your attention, and I am grateful that, despite the horrific pictures we are seeing from Japan and the many questions we are facing at this time, so many of you took the time to participate in this Bundestag debate on developments in North Africa. I believe that even just your attendance under these circumstances sends an important message of support to the whole of civil society in the Arab world and in North Africa.

Thank you for your attention.

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