Arab democracy movements – Migration/Union for the Mediterranean/investment/Middle East peace process - Libya
Paris, March 15, 2011
ARAB DEMOCRACY MOVEMENTS
I now want to mention the Mediterranean’s southern shore. The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia and 25 January in Egypt paved the way for a series of unprecedented upheavals that one of my G8 counterparts had no hesitation in comparing with the fall of the Berlin Wall. We were very much criticized for not foreseeing them; but if prospective studies exist, so do retrospective studies; perhaps diplomacy belongs to the latter category.
These events have multiple causes. The first is the questioning of the legitimacy of authoritarian Arab political regimes – republics or monarchies – particularly by emerging, educated, modern middle classes who want to play a greater role in political life and are expressing their desire for freedom. In Tunisia, efforts made for years to raise education levels aroused keen political awareness among young people, who at the same time couldn’t find any jobs.
The second reason relates to the erosion of power – with certain regimes having lasted several decades – and people’s sense of frustration with a monopoly of wealth, with corruption and the daily bullying meted out by the security forces.
Then there are the economic and social problems, like unemployment and the rise in commodity prices, particularly food – all phenomena linked to the global economic crisis of the past two years.
Finally we should mention the amplifying role of the media : the channel Al-Jazeera and, on the Internet, social networks like Facebook, on which one of the members of the 25 January coordination group I met in Tahrir Square was also an expert.
These factors are common to all the countries in the region stretching from Morocco to Iran; they carry in them, through the protest movements they unleashed, immense hope of change for the whole region. This new “Arab spring” mustn’t frighten us. For too long, we thought authoritarian regimes were the only bulwarks against extremism in Arab societies. In Tunisia and Egypt, the people swept that cliché aside by very maturely expressing their hope for democracy.
In Egypt, the authorities responded in a responsible way, without giving in to the temptation of violence: the army is now guiding the transition in cooperation with the representatives from Liberation Square, Tahrir Square, whom I met during my visit to Cairo on 6 March. Several problems remain, however: the electoral timetable, but also the hopes raised among the population, who are awaiting the benefits of the revolution – in other words, wage rises and social benefits. But the economic system in Egypt is grinding to a halt: the hotel occupancy rate has fallen to 10% or 15%, and several hundred thousand [Egyptian] refugees, who had been sending money, have returned from Libya or are going to do so. This situation only increases our duty to help.
In Morocco, the King delivered a brave and visionary speech, which I want to welcome: he’s the first person, to my knowledge, to put forward the idea of a constitutional monarchy, which could serve as an example. This reform should be drawn up in consultation with the political parties and civil society.
MIGRATION/UNION FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN/INVESTMENT/MIDDLE EAST PEACE PROCESS
We must take this new scenario into account in our approach to the southern Mediterranean region, not in order to teach lessons or export our standards but in order to support our partners in their democratic transition, in a spirit of trust, friendship and openness. It’s also a question of encouraging the emergence of a stable and prosperous region, by helping the countries concerned to resolve their economic and social difficulties: it’s not only our responsibility, it’s also in our interest. It’s totally illusory to want to control migration by building walls: others have tried to do so, with the result we’re aware of at the Mexican border. Even if we must show great vigilance on illegal immigration in the immediate future, the only solution in the longer term is to reduce the developmental inequalities between North and South.
It’s in this spirit that we must also restructure the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM). Even if this initiative has come up against several obstacles, beginning with the deadlock in the peace process between the Israelis and Palestinians, current events show it was visionary. So we’re going to relaunch it, remembering on the one hand that it relies on a balanced partnership between North and South and on the other that it consists in developing concrete projects, whether it be in solar energy, the cleaning up of the Mediterranean or the Mediterranean Office for Youth, which will make it possible to organize the flow of students.
In the immediate future, and to respond to the urgency of the situation, we can rely on the existing tools, like the Facility for Euro-Mediterranean Investment and Partnership (FEMIP) or the European Investment Bank (EIB), for which the European Council last week decided to raise the ceiling of its intervention mandates in the Mediterranean. To go further, France is proposing to create a real Mediterranean investment facility, relying particularly on the FEMIP.
We must also continue our efforts to support the peace process. The Palestinian people’s hopes are no less legitimate than those of other peoples in the region: we must respond to them by working to establish a democratic, viable and lasting Palestinian State living in peace and security alongside the State of Israel. This aim is today agreed by everyone. The status quo is untenable. A new scenario has arisen around Israel: we must persuade our partners in the Quartet of this, in order to make progress on defining the parameters of a final status agreement. The year 2011 must be that of the recognition of a Palestinian State, in accordance with the road map we set ourselves: all the G8 partners share this feeling, even if our American friends do so with a few nuances.
Finally, we must be sure to adapt the broad lines of our action to the specific characteristics of each country. The urgent thing is clearly Libya, our main concern being to protect the civilian population. The issue is obviously very sensitive, insofar as the balance of power between the Tripoli regime and the opposition based in Benghazi is in the process of evolving. Without wishing to dwell on the recent past, I can’t resist the urge to recall that France was the first country, along with Britain, to say Colonel Gaddafi must be prevented from using violence to try to restore his authority. It’s possible, because military planes can take off from few airports; moreover, although Libya has purchased perhaps about 400 fighter planes in the past 40 years, it’s not true – as some of our partners have maintained – that they’re all operational: fewer than about 20 are, and barely more helicopters. France didn’t uphold the idea of a no-fly zone – difficult over such a vast territory – but rather, on the basis of a UN Security Council resolution, targeted strikes on military positions, because it’s air bombardments that enabled Colonel Gaddafi to upset the power balance with the rebel movement. Some of our partners, chief among them my German counterpart, opposed any use of force. As for Russia, she was hardly enthusiastic, and the United States took a long time to define her position.
What can we do in the face of the advance of Colonel Gaddafi’s troops?
I had a lot of trouble securing agreement among the participants in the G8, which, while not being a decision-making body, nevertheless brings together four members of the Security Council. A consensus was reached for the latter to adopt, as soon as possible, measures aimed at exerting sufficient pressure on Colonel Gaddafi: the idea of a no-fly zone is one of them, even though certain members are hostile to it; for our part, we consider it obsolete. The second point of agreement was the necessary involvement of the Arab countries. To enter Libya under the NATO banner would be the best way of turning Arab opinion against us. The Arab League called for a no-fly zone, but our Russian friends pointed out that this declaration was a little ambiguous and accompanied by reservations; as for the African Union, it doesn’t take entirely the same line. President Sarkozy is working to organize a summit between the European Union, the African Union and the Arab League. (…)./.