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Ladies and gentlemen,
10 October 2015 was a milestone for civil society organisations in Arab transition countries. On that day the winner of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize was announced. All in all 276 candidates were nominated. But in the end, the winner was not Chancellor Angela Merkel, Pope Francis or the United Nations Refugee Agency UNHCR. No, the Nobel Peace Prize 2015 was awarded to the Tunisian national dialogue quartet, a coalition of civil society organisations, for its contribution to building a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia.
What a wonderful signal! The Nobel Peace Prize is not only a confirmation of the efforts of civil society organisations in Tunisia, but it is also highly encouraging for other activists in the whole region. I am delighted to welcome the representatives of civil society and NGOs among you. In a way, you are all winners!
It is wonderful to have you here in the Federal Foreign Office today. This Deauville Partnership outreach event marks the final activity of the German Presidency of the Deauville Partnership. And I’m glad that this event honours the importance of civil society in Arab transition countries.
Before I turn to the specific theme of this event, allow me to make some general remarks. The year 2015 is now coming to an end – and what an eventful year it has been!
From a European perspective, 2015 will be remembered as the year of the refugee crisis. The influx of refugees coming from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and many other countries is a huge challenge for Europe – and for Germany in particular. This year alone we have welcomed nearly one million refugees and migrants. This is an enormous figure presenting us with challenges on a scale that we have not seen since the end of the Second World War.
This dramatically demonstrates that we all live in one world. What happens in other parts of the world has a direct impact on our lives here in Germany. It is therefore not just a choice but very much in our own interests to support our partners in North Africa and the Middle East in their efforts for peace, freedom, stability and prosperity.
Ladies and gentlemen,
The Arab Spring in 2011 initially held huge promise: in Tunisia and Egypt authoritarian regimes were replaced by new governments with greater democratic legitimacy. Other regimes – like Ghaddafi’s in Libya – fell less peacefully. In Yemen and Syria public unrest finally resulted in horrible civil wars.
Is that how the story of the Arab Spring will end? Will the Arab Spring find its place in history books as an autumn of violence and fundamentalism? I don’t want to accept this conclusion!
What can we do to support our partners during the transition process? In order to foster democracy and economic stability in Arab transition countries the G7 countries established the Deauville Partnership in 2011.
This aim is still valid and relevant in 2015. Let me quote from the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Communiqué of 15 April 2015 on the Deauville Partnership: "The aspirations of the people throughout the Arab region for greater political participation, economic development and social justice remain as important as ever. We underline our strong belief that only open, inclusive societies and economies, underpinned by the rule of law and respect for human rights, can achieve lasting progress on the path towards stability and prosperity."
This belief has been guiding our efforts within the Deauville Partnership as well as on other levels, both European and bilateral. The Partnership has provided an international support framework for Arab countries in transition. The coordination between the G7, important regional partners and international financial institutions – all represented here today – has been extremely valuable.
Unfortunately, the problems that led to the Arab revolutions in 2011 remain largely unresolved. In many reform areas we see little progress. The countries of the region face a number of socio-economic problems.
Moreover, other and highly pressing challenges have emerged in North Africa and the Middle East: One urgent problem is the growing religious radicalisation and recruitment for terror organisations such as Islamic State and al-Qaida. Why do so many young men – especially from the Maghreb region – join these militant organisations?
Illegal migration is another important issue. The fact that so many young people do not see any perspective in their home countries is highly worrying. This should be an alarm signal for political and economic elites in the region – and for us in Europe, too.
If we want to achieve greater stability in the region, we have to do more than fight terrorism. We have to address the underlying political and social problems. We have to create the right conditions for positive economic and social development.
Ladies and gentlemen,
"Karama" was one of the keywords used by young demonstrators during the Arab Spring. "Karama" stands for dignity, but also for social justice, equal opportunities and – very importantly – economic perspectives.
Why do countries in North Africa and the Middle East have problems providing promising economic perspectives to the younger generation? All over the world the key to economic progress is the combination of the following elements: a stable political environment with pluralism and rule of law, but also open markets, competitive and dynamic enterprises and regional integration.
All of these characteristics are usually present in democratic systems, but not in authoritarian regimes.
The real test for any government is whether they can secure equal rights and political participation; whether they protect minorities and ensure a full role for women in society; and whether they respect the democratic process by not clinging to power if they lose an election. Many governments in North Africa and the Middle East still have to prove that they pass this test.
Those of us outside of the region have a responsibility to respect the choices people make at the ballot box. We should not pick sides or choose winners, but stand up for the right of people to determine their future. And we should not lose trust in the people of the region, understanding that such change will be the work of generations.
We respect the right of each nation and each society to find their own way, in accordance with their beliefs and traditions. Arab nations are sovereign countries and it is not for us – the West – to prescribe certain ways of changing. There is not one single model for a region with different cultures and political systems.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Modern history shows that civil society plays a major role in democratic development. Prosperous and functioning democracies are those where every group’s voice may be heard and where civil society can freely monitor and openly criticise government activities. An active and vibrant civil society acts as a bridge between people and governments.
Long-term stability is best assured when there is a safe space for open public debate. Protecting fundamental freedoms is not incompatible with a stable society. We all want to live and work where creativity can flourish and where freedom of expression and association are guaranteed. It is in our common interest to ensure that these aims are achieved in North Africa and the Middle East.
We are talking about profound changes in politics and society as a whole –
changes that demand a lot from governments, but also from citizens. Without a vibrant civil society there will be no peace, no stability, no prosperity. This is why we consider engagement with civil society to be essential. We will continue to support civil society actors and NGOs because they are builders of democracy.
This Deauville Partnership outreach event gives us a good opportunity to learn about your ideas. How can we address your needs and ambitions? What should our future priorities be in the region? How can we better respond to the different needs of different countries?
Now it is up to you to debate, to find common demands and to put forward proposals. We, as the outgoing Deauville Presidency, will ensure that what is being discussed today and tomorrow will find its way to all members of this Partnership. Your voices and your ideas will be heard!
I now wish you fruitful discussions. Thank you for your kind attention.