Minister of State Cornelia Pieper at the German Arab Society event entitled The Arab Spring and its Resonance in Germany
-- Translation of advanced text--
Ladies and gentlemen,
Thank you very much to the German Arab Society and all the sponsors and co-organizers for hosting this Middle Eastern evening, which promises a varied and stimulating programme.
I would especially like to welcome Aly Masednah El Kothany, the new Libyan Chargé d’affaires in Berlin! Mr El Kothany, the sun of freedom is shining down on your country – welcome to Berlin!
I’m pleased to have an opportunity to speak about a topic that has captivated all of us since the beginning of this year, and whose global ramifications are still hard to predict. The historical significance of the year 2011 is every bit as great as that of the year 1989, even if the upheaval in the region – as currently seen in Libya and Syria – has claimed many innocent victims and may yet claim more.
The Arab Spring swept away the dictatorial regimes of Ben Ali, Mubarak and Gaddafi, thwarting their dynastic ambitions; other Middle Eastern regimes may follow. From the outset Europe has supported this eruption of yearning for freedom and self determination, which took many by surprise. The death of the Tunisian greengrocer Mohammed Bouazizi at the arbitrary hand of not democratically mandated security forces triggered people in many places – most of them young – to unleash their frustration about the humiliation they felt at their treatment by the corrupt and oppressive regime.
This wave, which began in Tunisia and has now engulfed the majority of the Arab world, has shown us that the human striving for freedom and democracy cannot be repressed forever – not even with violence, especially not with violence.
Since the start of this Arab Spring, Germany has been following developments with great sympathy and admiration, watching as Tunisia and Egypt carried out a largely peaceful struggle to alter reigning conditions. It was above all the young people’s feeling of being robbed of their future which ultimately tipped the balance. Corruption, nepotism and wrongheaded social and education policy left many people’s potential untapped. The result was sluggish economic development and correspondingly high youth unemployment. This is a particular problem in countries where about half the population is younger than 25.
Ensuring long-term freedom and prosperity on the southern shores of the Mediterranean is of course a matter of vital significance for the countries of the European Union. It’s thus the aim of Europe – and especially of Germany – to keep supporting the Arab Spring. We’re doing so within the framework of the new European Neighbourhood Policy as well as through our own national contributions. Germany has concluded transformation partnerships with Tunisia and Egypt, for which we will provide 100 million euro over the next two years. In doing so, we want to help these two countries – and later possibly also other countries in the region – as they undertake needed political, economic and social reforms. But we also want to support civil society structures which we hope will foster the formation of political will to democratically preserve and strengthen the freedom that has been gained.
Our German-Arabic education, culture and media initiative entitled Place of the Future pays tribute to Tahrir Square in Cairo and the public spaces in other countries in the region where the freedom movements had their start. As part of this initiative, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH) will establish special scholarship programmes for students, research residencies, higher education cooperation projects, alumni programmes and positions for lecturers. The Goethe Institut will continue to intensify its educational work in Egypt and Tunisia, and will as a part of this establish further meeting places – along the lines of the successful Tahrir Lounge in Cairo – in Upper Egypt and the Nile Delta for young people who want to help build up a democratic Egypt. The Goethe Institut also plans to expand the Arabic German youth blog Transit. We are collaborating with the DW Akademie to support the basic and further training of journalists by developing multimedia courses for journalists in Egypt (likely at the German University Cairo) and Tunisia (Tunis University). We ultimately hope to create a media initiative for the Arab world in order to serve a young audience with a thirst for education in North Africa and the Middle East. Television shows with Germany-related educational content drawn from the areas of science and research, industry, politics and society are intended to enrich the dialogue between Germany and the most important countries in transition.
I hope very much that the people of the Arab region – especially in Libya and Syria, but also in Yemen and other countries undergoing change – will experience a more peaceful Ramadan and harmonious Eid al Fitr next year, than has been the case this year.
For now, however, I wish all of us an enjoyable and engaging evening and interesting conversations!