EU must 'bear its true weight' to support Arab spring
by Ioannis Kasoulides
In Libya and Syria the EU is showing that it learned quickly from its reluctance to react to events in Tunisia and Egypt
The unfolding events in the Arab world have already proved groundless a Western perception that democracy and social justice are not values shared by the rest of the world.
When the people, however resilient they may be, witness unprecedented corruption by their leadership and bad governance contributing to their extreme poverty, they need space – made available by traditional democratic means – in order to protest and express their anger and demand change.
Oppression, the police state, torture and lack of democracy and human rights led to revolt in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and the list keeps on expanding.
The authoritarian leaders in Tunisia and Egypt got, rather quickly, the message that the democratic aspirations of their people were irreversible. The moral defiance of their military forces to turn their guns to their own compatriots precipitated the two dictators' departure from power. For the sake of Egypt, Tunisia and humanity, large-scale internal conflict was avoided.
Regrettably, Colonel Gaddafi, contrary to any common logic and patriotic sense, in a desperate attempt to keep his autocratic rule, led his country to civil war. The death toll is unthinkable, but thanks to the European Union and its allies' decisive air campaign against Gaddafi´s military facilities, the Libyan dictator's days in power are over.
To the detriment of the Syrian people, Bashar al-Assad is making the same fatal mistake. He appears totally incapable of listening to the signs of our times. The international community has allowed him enough time to undertake himself the necessary reforms in order to meet the Syrians' democratic demands. Compared to others, the Assad regime had initially a substantial minority support to preside over such reforms.
Yet, he chose instead an intensive and violent assault on his own people. After 5 months of uprising, as of the beginning of this month, more than 2,200 people have lost their lives and many more have got injured or been detained. The recent publication of video recordings of Syrian security forces firing mercilessly at participants in demonstrations against the regime proved that the government announcement of an end to violence on the 17 August had no credibility.
The simultaneous calls on 18 August of the EU and the United States to President al-Assad to step aside were self-evident under the circumstances. Yet, despite calls coming even from traditional allies of Syria – like Iran, Hezbollah in Lebanon and of course the Arab League – to recognise the Syrian people's legitimate demands, the Syrian regime is ruthlessly continuing to suppress peaceful protesters across the country, even in the premises of religious places during the Ramadan.
It becomes clear that the Assad regime has forfeited the right to be considered as a legitimate power in Syria. Very few can now imagine a peaceful and prosperous future for Syria with the present regime at its helm. The sooner they quit power, the better.
As the importer of 90 per cent of Syria´s export oil, the EU took very recently the decision to ban all oil imports from that country, while another set of sanctions decided by the European Council is already in place. Indeed, unlike Colonel Gaddafi's and President al-Assad's incapability to realize that times are changing, the EU learned its lesson rather quickly.
The initial reluctant and uncoordinated EU reaction towards the groundbreaking events in Tunisia and Egypt was succeeded by a more and more solid-rooted belief that our values have been proven to be universal with like-minded, educated and middle-class people. It is now more than evident that human security is key to regional and international security. International humanitarian law transcends any narrow interpretation of "non-interference" in the internal matters of a sovereign state. Threats to international peace and security do not concern only states; they also have to do with human security.
And the EU has made a timely declaration, already from 2003, that it has a "responsibility to protect". This is what it is successfully doing in Libya. This is what it has to repeat when and where needed.
At this stage, what is more important is the prevalence of the democratic movements in the Arab world in a smoother and less violent way. Yet, the most difficult part of the story lies ahead of us. The democratic transition of the Arab countries after the fall of their dictators is a particularly complex procedure.
In this important moment of history, the EU is called to bear its true weight. Far from becoming a crusader for democracy, the union must contribute to encourage the political debate and facilitate the normalisation process. All this in a spirit of dialogue and accepting the principle that reforms are a matter to be achieved from within and not imposed from outside.
In this respect, the review of the European Neighbourhood Policy and the appointment of Mr Bernandino Leon as the EU's special representative in the southern Mediterranean region are concrete, practical steps to the right direction. The European Parliament will continue to closely and actively follow this process.
Ioannis Kasoulides MEP is vice-chairman of the European People's Party group in the European Parliament and chairman of the permanent working group on foreign affairs
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