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Occupation magazine - Commentary
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EU support for Arab rebels is shamefully late
The Arab revolutionaries have found a new comrade. On Friday, the European Union joined them in the struggle for liberty by promising to extend its commitment to democracy and justice to cover the dictatorships of the Middle East. Europe could not bring itself to support military intervention against Gaddafi. Nonetheless it talked of a `partnership` to promote independent political parties, a free judiciary, uncorrupted bureaucracies… the full democratic works.
These are novel rights for the Middle East. Equally novel is European enthusiasm for them. The crashing sound you can hear is the noise of gears being wrenched into reverse. European foreign ministries are abandoning the shameful policy of decades, as they realise that realpolitik has left them on the wrong side of history – as it always does.
The last `partnership` with the Arab world began in 2008. Nicolas Sarkozy summoned the leaders of 43 European and Arab states to the `Union for the Mediterranean` in the appropriately pretentious surroundings of the Grand Palais on the Champs Elysées. Europe did not condemn the Arab dictators` denial of freedom, the cruelty of their regimes or the cronyism that was allowing the Mubarak family in Egypt and the Bashir and Gaddafi clans in `revolutionary` Syria and Libya to become monarchical dynasties where absolute power passed from father to son. Criticism would have caused a diplomatic incident. Most of the dictators were present, and Hosni Mubarak sat as co-chairman – alongside Sarkozy.
Europeans did not investigate Arab suffering, because they did not believe they had a democratic duty to help it end. To add obfuscation to indifference, they could not admit their accommodation with autocracy honestly. Instead, the left pretended criticism of intolerable regimes was cultural imperialism; an `orientalist` interference in the affairs of `the other`. The right hymned the virtues of `stability` and `strong rulers`.
Disentangling their special interests from their special pleading is not as easy as it seems. Following the money appears the simplest route when searching for the influence of tyrannies because the dictatorships undoubtedly used (shall we say?) `pecuniary inducements` to win friends. No one in Paris was surprised to discover that the family of Michèle Alliot-Marie, Sarkozy`s former foreign minister, and a politician whose behaviour was so scandalous it shocked even the French, had struck property deals with Ben Ali`s cronies. When she announced she wanted to send French police officers to suppress the Tunisian revolution because les flics` `savoir faire` was ideally suited to `solving security problems of this kind`, she all but broadcast her complicity.
Meanwhile the British know that BP lobbied Gordon Brown to secure the release of the Lockerbie bomber. With luck, we may learn more if the rebels can reverse their defeats, and open the secret police archives in Tripoli. Those files may also explain why Silvio Berlusconi felt it necessary to corral 500 `hostesses` and `escorts`, and send the perplexed ladies to hear Gaddafi read from the Koran at the Libyan ambassador`s Rome residence.
However, readers who see corruption as a universal explanation should take a deep breath and remember Humbert Wolfe`s line: `You cannot hope to bribe or twist,/Thank God! the British journalist./But, seeing what the man will do/Unbribed, there`s no occasion to.`
Most of the apologists for dictatorship do not need bribes, whether they are Foreign Office Arabists, Little England columnists for the Tory press or the Livingstone/Galloway breed of brutal leftist. They will apologise when there is no prospect of profit for them. The Scottish Nationalist party released Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi, not Labour, and no one has produced evidence that money made it hand Gaddafi a propaganda coup before Scottish appeal judges had ruled on al-Megrahi`s guilt. Instead of looking like a bought man, Alex Salmond posed as a tartan Che Guevara, who was defying the Yankee oppressors by freeing a criminal convicted of destroying a Pan Am plane and all its passengers and crew.
I guess that Salmond is typical and a majority of Europeans believe Libya is a distant land, whose affairs have nothing to do with us. It is pointless to reply that the Arab world is always intervening in Europe`s affairs through terrorism or the Saudis pumping anti-western, anti-gay, anti-women and antisemitic propaganda into western schools, mosques and universities. Equally it is no use arguing that Europe has already been profoundly changed by the intervention of immigrants escaping from stagnant, repressive societies, and may be further transformed by refugees fleeing Gaddafi`s armies.
Nothing can shake Europe`s racism of low expectations, which holds that for an undefined reason – Arab culture, Islam, something in the water – hundreds of millions of people do not want the same rights as us. As I write, the airwaves are full of cocksure voices bellowing that the dismal experience of Iraq ought to have taught us to mind our own business. None says that it also ought to have taught us that Europeans were unable to combine opposition to George W Bush and Tony Blair with any feeling of solidarity towards those Iraqis who wanted a better life after enduring a dictatorship more brutal than Gaddafi`s and the assaults of Ba`athists, Iranian-backed militias and al-Qaida. Public opinion behaved as if Iraqis deserved nothing better.
As a result, Europe has shown none of the generosity to the Arab world it showed to the states of the former Soviet empire. The EU offered eastern European countries trade privileges if they acted like constitutional democracies. Outside of Europe, trade and aid has had no strings attached. EU governments offered no carrots and wielded no sticks in Algeria, Libya, Jordan, Morocco, Syria and Tunisia. The ending of torture and the promotion of democracy was not a task the EU was prepared to encourage.
Revolutionaries are overturning old assumptions with their customary élan. Elite opinion is realising that newly liberated Arab nations will have little reason to regard Europe with anything but contempt. A group of French diplomats put the need for a moral foreign policy better than I ever could when they wrote to Le Monde during the Alliot-Marie scandal and cried that the result of `realism` was that: `Europe is impotent, Africa is falling through our hands, the Mediterranean pays us no attention, China has tamed us, and Washington ignores us!` If Europe is not to be an irrelevance, it must learn what it ought to have known all along: freedom is not only for the rich and the white.
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