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Syria: “Everything must be done to stop the violence”

08.02.2012 - Interview

Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle in an interview on the Arab Spring and the consequences of Russia’s and China’s veto on a UN Security Council Resolution on Syria.
Published in the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung on 8 February 2012.

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The composite Arabellion aptly covers very different aspects of the Arab Spring. Where in North Africa and the Arab world do you see the greatest potential for democratic structures?

Developments differ significantly. The course towards building a more open and democratic society has certainly progressed furthest in Tunisia, which has seen elections to the Constituent Assembly and the inauguration of a democratically elected government. However, we shouldn’t forget that in addition to the revolutionary changes we have witnessed in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya, there are promising reform processes of an evolutionary nature underway in Morocco or Jordan that could lead to greater democratic participation.

One year after the revolution started, Egypt has a parliament as freely and fairly elected as none before.More than two thirds of the MPs are Islamists and around a dozen have been appointed by the Military Council, while the young revolutionaries are represented by a mere handful. Do these liberal forces stand a chance?

The important thing is for the ideas for which the revolutionaries took to the streets – freedom, pluralism and religious tolerance – to be kept alive. The Military Council has a duty to complete the transfer of authority into civilian hands according to plan. We expect the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, whose leader I recently met in Cairo, to translate their verbal commitment to a democratic and plural society and to peace both at home and internationally into tangible actions. As can be seen from recent events and the escalating violence, the situation in Egypt remains very difficult and fragile. We need to do everything in our power to support a successful transition to democracy.

Might not the many disappointed citizens bring about a second revolutionary wave, sweeping away corrupt institutions and the remaining bigwigs?

The crucial question is whether the revolutionary changes will deliver the results people hoped they would. Apart from the development of an open society, this involves without a doubt the longed-for economic upswing and more opportunities in life for the people. This is a very important issue if the radical changes are to succeed. This is where we come into play: with investments and support in vocational training and by opening our European markets for products from the reform states in North Africa. I’m committed to making all of this happen.

Bloody carnage is taking place in Syria, where Assad is having his own people massacred.In the UN Security Council, Russia opposes any kind of sanction against Syria. Is that down to the arms deliveries to Assad, or to fear of a military operation like the one in Libya?

The Russian and Chinese veto in the Security Council was a veto against the people of Syria. I don’t wish to speculate about the reasons for what I consider to be a deeply wrong decision. It is now vital that we do everything in our power – within and outside the Security Council – to stop the violence. This might be a fresh approach in the Security Council or tough sanctions against the Assad regime. We also want to establish a contact group for the friends of a democratic Syria. It is time for President Assad to finally clear the way for democratic change.

If the UN were to vote on a military intervention in Syria, would Germany abstain?

What it all boils down to in New York is that the key authority on matters of international peace and security must clearly condemn the intolerable violence perpetrated by the Assad regime against its own people at long last. So far, this hasn’t come off because of the veto by Russia and China. We will do everything we can to get Moscow and Beijing to reconsider.

Libyan ruler Gaddafi was only brought down in the course of a bloody civil war. Will his country find its way back to normality?

The situation in Libya is far from stable. When I was last in the country some weeks ago, I could, however, see for myself that there has indeed been progress towards normality. The economy is picking up again, the Transitional Council and the interim government have drawn up a road map for the gradual establishment of legitimate institutions, the treatment of those wounded in the civil war is advancing, not least thanks to German support, shops in Tripoli are open once more – in short: the return to normality is making itself felt. But because of the security situation, the need to reintegrate former combatants and the total lack of democratic experience, the overall state of affairs remains critical.

Interview conducted by Beate Tenfelde. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

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