Situation in North Africa, Yemen and Syria
Delivered in Plenary - 6th July 2011
Six months after the start of the Arab Spring, the countries in the Middle East and North Africa remain in flux.
Egypt deserves credit for prosecuting former President Mubarak and his family for corruption. Its military has generally shown wisdom and restraint in its handling of the political vacuum in the country. The ECR hopes to see a new president emerge in September who can restore Egypt’s rightful place as leader of the Arab world. By the way, Ms De Keyser, there is an Arab world, there is also an Arab League, and that is the face for the Arab world.
After the elections, I hope that the Muslim Brotherhood will stick to their pledge to honour the concept of democratic pluralism and that Egypt will maintain the peace accords with Israel. These are vital for regional security. Egypt needs massive EU direct aid and loan finance now from the EIB and EBRD. I welcome Baroness Ashton’s initiatives in this area; we must help stabilise this key country’s economy.
Tunisia is also beginning to make tangible progress towards a more stable future, but remains destabilised by the ongoing upheavals in neighbouring Libya. It is essential for the credibility of the EU and for NATO – which is enforcing the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 – to end Gaddafi’s grip on power in Libya.
Having invaded Iraq in the name of banishing tyranny and championing democracy, we in the West can hardly leave the job half done in Libya; a wounded Gaddafi being allowed to stay in power would be a disaster as he would plot revenge against his own people and also Western targets.
In this context, I also call on Algeria to cease helping the Tripoli regime with supplies and free passage for mercenaries.
In Yemen, the uncertainty about the succession to President Ali Abdullah Saleh risks emboldening the al-Qaeda terrorists in the country. He is now part of the problem and not the solution and he should stay in Saudi Arabia and sign the GCC-brokered agreement and pave the way for free elections and a successor.
The situation in Bahrain is also worrying, and I hope that the Sunni monarchy makes reformist concessions towards the opposition, mainly from the Bahraini Shia majority.
In Syria, President Bashar seeks to brutally crush all resistance to his autocratic Ba’athist rule. We cannot forget the principled stand by courageous unarmed protesters calling for a democratic post-Bashar Syria free of the malevolent influence of Iran and its support for Hezbollah and Hamas. The arrest and torture of children is particularly sickening in Syria and, although I, too, am concerned by reports of Salafist jihadi groups now joining the protesters, this cannot be used by the regime as an excuse to murder innocent protesters. I particularly fear now for the Christians and the Iraqi refugees on that territory.
I also welcome the constitutional reforms in Morocco to diminish the King’s powers, but hope the situation in Western Sahara can also be settled peacefully with the referendum for independence.
I welcome this week the independence of South Sudan, and hope that Khartoum, also a member of the Arab League, will not try to destabilise Africa’s newest nation, which needs all the help it can get from the European Union.
Lastly, I thank the High Representative and her staff for all their good work and commitment to supporting the Arab Spring and stabilising the EU southern neighbourhood.