In These New Times

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Opinion: ‘Nothing but doubt and indecision in the West’

Posted by seumasach on February 8, 2011

Bettina Marx


8th February, 2011

For two weeks now, Egyptians have been demonstrating for democracy, freedom and civil rights. With admirable courage, they have put up with discomfort and danger, and have put their lives and their health on the line. For two weeks now, an entire population of freedom fighters has taken to the streets and squares to demand democratic participation and justice.

The demonstrators have waited in vain for support from the West; democracy’s core countries, Europe and the US. “Without us”, that’s the message from Berlin and Rome, London and Paris.

One shouldn’t aim for new elections too quickly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel told delegates at the Munich Security Conference – and she was backed by Washington. Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, not much of a supporter of democracy in his own country over the years, even urged keeping Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak in office. French President Nicolas Sarkozy gave backing to his foreign minister, a woman with private ties to the group surrounding ousted Tunisian President Ben Ali.

Bettina MarxBettina Marx is a DW correspondent in Berlin

Truly, none of these are signals that one would wish for from Europe 20 years after the victory of pro-democracy movements on its own soil.

The way the western nations are reacting to the desire for freedom of the peoples in the Arabic world is embarrassing. Instead of encouragement and support for the courageous protesters, there is nothing but admonishment, doubt and indecision. And that despite the fact that western politicians and publicists had for years praised democracy as the only viable form of government. Again and again, they held the absence of democracy responsible for the lack of progress and economic inequality in the Arab world and even for the standstill of the Middle East peace process.

Former US President George Bush named as his favorite book a work by former Israeli minister Natan Sharansky. What characterizes democracy, according to the author, is that citizens can go to the market place and shout out their dissatisfaction with the government. Lasting peace in the Middle East is only possible, he wrote, if the Arab countries have that kind of democracy. In Cairo and Alexandria, Mansoura and Suez, people have for two weeks been crowding the cities’ squares, shouting out their anger and frustration about the dictatorial Mubarak regime. But the West is leaving the freedom movement in the lurch. The West fears for the stability of the region, for the graveyard peace that can only be guaranteed by rulers of the ilk of a Mubarak, a Ben Ali, a Bouteflika or a King Abdullah.

It is equivalent to a confession of failure that the governments lack clear words of support for the democracy movement in Egypt. It is doubly embarrassing that Europe’s citizens have also held back, that there are no mass demonstrations, no show of solidarity in western capitals with the people in the Arab world, the people who are, after all, our neighbors.


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