Dr Charles Tannock

Member of the European Parliament for London

Situation in Tunisia and Egypt

Delivered in Plenary - 2nd February 2011

Mr President

France, of course, nurtured the Ayatollah Khomeini and flew him back to Tehran.

But, on another issue, Egypt has been a republic since 1956 but Mubarak is only the country’s third President. In Tunisia, Ben Ali was only the second leader since independence 53 years ago. When the political landscape offers such little hope of change, inevitably frustrations boil over – as we now see with the hurricane of change blowing across the region.

My group, the ECR Group, calls for a genuinely democratic and peaceful transition in Egypt. Today we see a worrying trend towards violence. It is hard to see how Mubarak can credibly play a role in that transition other than by stepping down.

Tunisia also remains in ferment, and the longer that lasts the greater the danger that Islamists will seize the political initiative. Tunisia may have been authoritarian and corrupt, but it was profoundly secular and pro-Western; we must remember that.

Indeed this is also a danger in Egypt, where the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is seeking to fill the political vacuum as we speak. The radicalisation of Egyptian politics would be a disaster for that country and for neighbouring Israel. But it could also have grave implications for the operation of the Suez Canal.

The EU’s diplomatic efforts in Tunisia and Egypt must be focused entirely on ensuring stability and order, and resisting those who would wish to spread violence and fear as we see today. To build a liberal democracy in these countries with no such traditions, the EU, the USA and our political think-tanks in Europe must now place significant resources behind moderate democratic politicians and new parties who must be committed to democratic pluralism and free and fair elections and, unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, be prepared to relinquish power if defeated at the ballot box. This is a huge challenge and of course we may now be witnessing an historic ‘fall of the Berlin Wall moment’ in the Muslim world.

There are already good democratic role models in Muslim-majority countries, such as Indonesia, Turkey and Bangladesh, for Egypt and Tunisia to emulate. Hopefully, in future the choice in the Muslim world will not be between secular tyranny and Islamist theocracies but instead enduring democracy.