Hands off Egypt!

The events in Egypt are exhilarating to any lover of civil liberty, concedes Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins. But given its record of bloody and futile interventions around the world, the West should think twice about meddling as Muslim states strive for self-determination.

Published on 2 February 2011 at 14:11
 | Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square, 1 February 2011

We are hypocrites. We cheer on the brave Tunisians and Egyptians as they assert the revolutionary power of the street. Hands off, we cry. Let them do it their way. It has taken a long time, but let the people get the credit and be strengthened thereby.

We gave no such licence to the Iraqis or Afghans. We presumed it was our job to dictate how they should be governed. We accused their leaders of crimes and decided to punish them all, massacring thousands. We declared a “freedom agenda”, and bombed them to bits.

Hosni Mubarak of Egypt is another Saddam Hussein, a secular dictator ruling a Muslim country with a rod of iron through a kleptocracy of cronies. Less wealthy than Saddam, he had to rely on American support, but he was only a little more subtle in his ruthlessness.

We are told that there were sound strategic reasons for supporting Mubarak – as there once were for supporting the Ba’athists, Assad of Syria and Saddam himself. There were similar reasons for backing the Ben Ali dynasty in Tunisia and “Britain’s good friend”, the outrageous Colonel Gaddafi of Libya. All offered a supposed bulwark against Muslim extremism, a monster of which Americans and Britons are told to show a pathological, all-consuming and costly terror. Now, apparently, that no longer applies to Egypt.

In reality there is no such thing as an ethical foreign policy. There is something philosophical called ethics and something pragmatic called foreign policy. The art of diplomacy lies in navigating between them. The Blair-Bush “crusade for democracy” failed to do so. It was motivated by the most dangerous thing in politics, religious fervour. Read full article in the Guardian

Union for the Mediterranean

Egypt torpedoes Sarkozy flagship

The Egyptian crisis could definitively sink the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), writes La Stampa. In the wake of the resignation of secretary-general Ahmad Khalef Masadeh, who was unhappy about the UfM’s funding, “the political upheavals in Tunisia, Albania and Egypt have contributed to doubts about the organisation’s future and embarrassed Brussels. And that is not only because Mubarak is still a joint president of the UfM.” The question, which will be up for debate at the next meeting of the European Council, could turn out to be another hot potato. The UfM, which “aims to build bridges between Mediterranean countries who share in a common past and who need to learn to live together, includes 43 member states from the EU, the Balkans and North Africa.”

But it has run aground, because Paris appears to be the only capital that really believes in the project, explains a diplomatic source quoted by La Stampa. “The Germans have been dragging their feet because they do not want another organisation to compete for attention with the EU. So they allowed Sarkozy have his flagship, but simply abandoned the project after the French presidency of the EU had come to close.” According to Italian Foreign Affairs Minister Franco Frattini, the UfM “is at a standstill,” and in view of the situation in the Mediterranean region, the Union would be better off if it was reduced to the membership of the “5+5” Defence Initiative (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Mauritania, Portugal, Spain, France, Italy and Malta), which is currently presided by Rome and could be extended to include Greece and Egypt.

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