British foreign policy and the 'Arab Spring'

19 July 2012

The Committee called on the Government to make reform-related assistance to the Arab Spring region a priority of its G8 presidency in 2013. The G8 Deauville Partnership fund identified $38 billion of support available to Arab Spring countries in the form of loans, grants, budget support and technical assistance in 2011. However, the Committee heard that much of this had not reached states in transition.

Mr Richard Ottaway said:

"Eighteen months since the Arab Spring began, there has been extraordinary progress in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Yet many challenges still lie ahead, not least the need to support and reform the economies of these Arab Spring states. In 2011, the G8 Deauville Partnership identified $38 billion of funding available to support reform. The UK must use its leadership in the EU and G8, particularly once it takes over the G8 presidency in 2013, to ensure that we deliver on our promises."

On action in Libya, the report notes that the UK responded boldly and showed leadership in the United Nations to achieve its desired response. However, it notes with concern that Russia and China’s complaints about what they perceive to be the "stretching" of the UN resolution on Libya now has consequences for attempts to secure agreement on Syria. The Chairman, Richard Ottaway, said:

"The situation in Syria is unacceptable, and the appearance of a stalemate in the UN Security Council on the situation is clearly deeply concerning. However, there can be no certainty that a less interventionist approach in Libya would have led to readier support from Russia and China for more vigorous condemnation of President Assad."

The Government needs to learn lessons from its experience in anticipating and handling the Arab Spring, the Foreign Affairs Committee says today. Questions arose about the FCO’s staffing levels, linguistic expertise and information gathering in the Middle East and North Africa region, although diplomats understood well the long-term problems in the region. The Committee Chairman, Richard Ottaway, said:

"It is not reasonable to have expected FCO diplomats to have predicted the Arab Spring uprisings with precision. However, we are concerned by reports that the FCO’s linguistic skills and staffing levels had reduced in the years before the uprisings. The FCO must consider what lessons can be learned from its experience with the Arab Spring and what steps it can take to improve its ability to anticipate such events in the future."

The report welcomes the Government’s recent moves to establish contacts with Islamist parties in the region and calls for deeper engagement with Islamist parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in Egypt to demonstrate at an early stage the UK’s support and assistance for democratically elected leaders who respect human rights and democratic reforms.

The BBC’s Arabic Service reached an audience of millions during the Arab Spring and further highlighted the importance of the BBC World Service in providing an independent news service and enhancing the UK’s standing in the region. The Committee welcomes the Government’s decision to reverse planned cuts to the Arabic Service last year, expresses concerns that cuts made elsewhere in the World Service will prove detrimental to the national interest, and urges that there be a sustained investment in the World Service.

Image: PA

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