Paris, 16 April 2011
Several of you have told me of your surprise at seeing me spend the whole day here, at the Arab World Institute, with all of you. So that there’s no ambiguity, I’d like to make it clear that this isn’t because I had nothing better to do, but from choice. Because what I lack the most in my job is obviously time, the time to listen, time to reflect, the time quite simply to stop and take my time. I’d like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to do this throughout a gripping day.
I’d like to start by thanking you again, M. Baudis, for the warm welcome you and your team have given us.
I also want to thank all the speakers for the wealth of their reflections, the time they have spent, at times the passion they have brought to this day of discussion devoted to the “Arab spring”. Let me also stress the Quai d’Orsay’s boldness, since we have been having a revolution all day. We haven’t stopped talking about revolution, we’ve done so with revolutionaries – not something this venerable institution of Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs frequently makes a habit of doing. I’d like to congratulate my collaborators who prepared this forum and have made it such a great success.
We’ve got to admit it: for us all, this “spring” has been a surprise.
For too long we thought that the authoritarian regimes were the only bastions against extremism in the Arab world. Too long, we have brandished the Islamist threat as a pretext for justifying to an extent turning a blind eye on governments which were flouting freedom and curbing their country’s development.
And then all of a sudden, in the town of Sidi Bouzid, without being influenced by any political or religious group, a young man sets fire to himself.
Then, all of a sudden, step by step, the flame of freedom is spreading throughout the region. Egypt’s youth rise up, Libya revolts, the Arab peoples rise up against the oppression. Citizens demand their dignity and forcefully voice their aspiration for personal freedom, respect for human dignity and to be able to express their opinions freely – all these universal values dear to France, and not just to France since they transcend civilizations, cultures and borders and are all part of the United Nations common good.
Then all of a sudden, the Arab world reconnects with the tradition of openness, change and modernity it had enjoyed for centuries. We have perhaps slightly forgotten this.
I’m thinking of the immense radiating influence of the caliphates of Damascus and Baghdad and Cairo and Córdoba too, when Averroes, Maimonides and Ibn Hazm inspired the world and when the three great monotheistic faiths together outlined a model of harmonious and peaceful coexistence on Andalusian soil.
I think too of the extraordinary al-Nahda renaissance movement, this enlightened reformism, nurtured at the wellspring of Arab culture and inspired by the Enlightenment, which was to lead to the emergence in the countries of the southern [Mediterranean] shore of an educated and modern elite. In Tunis, Cairo, Beirut, Damascus, al-Tunisi, al-Tahtawi, al-Afghani, al-Boustani and later Khalil Gibran acted as conveyors. Through their reading, travels and writing, they opened up the Arab world to the key issues of education, the place of women in society and also State organization.
Finally, I haven’t forgotten that at the turning points of the 19th and 20th centuries and until the Second World War, the Arab world, or at least a number of its elites, had its liberal age, with constitutionalist-inspired movements, the beginnings of parliamentary democracies and political pluralism, particularly in Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Tunisia.
No research centre, chancery or specialist could have predicted the scale or timing of this “Arab spring”, even though there were early warning signs – as if that part of the world were doomed to remain buried under a lead weight, without the right to freedom or modernity.
Yet for a long time already, as the participants in our first round table clearly showed, there had been green shoots of this irrepressible movement of renewal in all the countries on the southern shore.
Green shoots despite police harassment, human rights violations and corruption.
Green shoots in periods of poverty, unemployment and food price hikes, when the present made no sense and the future was still closed.
Green shoots on the radio and the web, nurtured by the media and social networks, cultivated by a dynamic, increasingly well-educated youth wanting to open up to the world.
Green shoots in the intellectual and artistic sphere. I’m thinking of Abderrahman Charkawi, whose novel “The Earth”, brought to the screen by the film-maker Youssef Chahine, describes the revolt of peasants in a village in the [Nile] Delta. I’m thinking too of Sonallah Ibrahim, whose whole work lampoons the Egyptian regime. I’m also thinking of Naguib Mahfouz, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, the writers Tayeb Salih, Emile Habibi and Kateb Yacine, and all those scientists, poets, musicians and film directors who were in the vanguard of the battle for freedom, tolerance and justice.
We mustn’t be afraid of this “Arab spring”.
It is the fruit of extraordinary courage. Have we forgotten the price of freedom and democracy, we who, 70 years ago, fought to defend these values? Have we forgotten what it costs in spilt blood and sacrificed lives when you rise up against barbarity, when you defy a tyrant as the Libyans are doing today?
This “Arab spring” is the fruit of a sense of responsibility. I need only point to the attitude of the young Egyptians in Tahrir Square. I met them last month during my visit to Cairo. I listened to them talk to me about their projects, hopes and fears. I was impressed by their calm, but also by their refusal to let a victory – that of their people, not a party or religion – be taken away from them. I was won over by their enthusiasm and their dream of a reconciled, democratic Egypt, capable of giving work to her young people. And I said to myself: “What if the Arab peoples succeeded?” Today, I’m happy to welcome those of you here in this lecture hall. Through their determination and their political maturity, they have given the world a lesson in listening, openness and dialogue.
Yes, for us all, this “Arab spring” sparks tremendous hope. But it’s a tremendous challenge too – I think that our second round table showed this very clearly.
Political challenge, first of all. We must all mobilize to guarantee the success of the democratic transition.
The Arab world is, of course, the most affected. In all the countries on the southern shore, new determined and exigent political players are emerging. In every country on the southern shore, relations between people – I’d even use the term “social contract” – need to be redefined. From now on, every government knows that it must let its citizens make their voices heard. Everyone knows you can no longer suppress a people’s legitimate aspirations with impunity.
But every situation is unique. And it’s for every people, with their history and their specificities, to take their destiny in hand and create their own model.
Today some countries are having to manage a post-revolution situation – I’m thinking of Tunisia and Egypt. This path towards freedom is a demanding path, which requires combining letting everyone express their views with respect for each individual, the legitimate thirst for democracy with the patient and necessary task of learning how to practise it and developing the culture of democracy. “For to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others” (Nelson Mandela, “The long walk to freedom”). And a State under the rule of law isn’t one which just respects citizens’ rights. It’s also a State based on a hierarchy of norms which everyone has to respect. This is why we have confirmed our support for the transition in Egypt and the European Union’s backing for Tunisia as she gears up to the constituent assembly election on 24 July this year.
In some countries, driven by this tremendous surge towards freedom, the authorities took the initiative by resolutely entering into a process of opening-up, anxious to provide answers to their people’s legitimate requests. I’m thinking of Morocco, where the King delivered a courageous speech, paving the way for major institutional reforms.
While others opted for a savage crackdown. It’s the case in Libya where the international community mobilized to protect the people. And without starting here a debate on the advisability of the intervention in Libya, I’ll just tell you that I remember the moment when I delivered my speech before the United Nations Security Council where I issued the appeal “It’s a matter of days, hours”. We were very well aware that Gaddafi’s columns were closing in fast on Benghazi and we knew what he would do there since he had announced it: massacre his adversaries. Today, it’s clear to everyone that, by firing on his own people, Gaddafi has lost all legitimacy and must give up power.
Others, finally, are prevaricating, as in Yemen and Syria, where the situation is extremely worrying. These countries have to know that there’s no path other than an open dialogue, which can bring a clear answer to the aspirations of their people who must be able to express their views in complete freedom.
On our side, we have to take on board all the necessary implications of this “Arab spring”.
SUPPORT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS/DEMOCRACY
The first is the need to guarantee respect for fundamental human rights. Admittedly, in the past, holding back particularly out of fear of the fundamentalist threat, we have at times had qualms about reacting to certain violations. I want to make myself clear: just as we are doing in Libya, we shall go on demonstrating the utmost firmness vis-à-vis any recognized violation and, depending on the gravity of the situation, we shall use every means at our disposal to end it. Indeed we have at our disposal a whole range of instruments, including sanctions, for extreme cases and with Security Council authorization.
This brings me to a matter I’d like to talk about unequivocally. Our policy isn’t designed to lead to regime change. We don’t intend deciding on the nature and division of internal powers of countries which are independent. We express our views, we condemn, we intervene only on the basis of international law and, in particular, in implementation of the new principle adopted by the United Nations in 2005 and referred to for the first time in a Security Council resolution: I mean the principle of the responsibility to protect – I remind you what it is: under the terms of this principle adopted unanimously by the United Nations, governments have the responsibility of protecting their peoples against war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocides. And if they don’t, the international community recognizes its right to do so in their place. This is why our action in Libya is taking place within the strict framework laid down by the pertinent Security Council resolutions, which doesn’t, of course, prevent us from asking for Gaddafi’s departure, since we consider that his remaining in power no longer appears compatible with the protection of the Libyan citizens.
The second necessary implication is the need to support the countries on the southern shore in their democratic transition. It isn’t a matter of giving them our recipes, we aren’t perfect, but of proposing our help in a spirit of trust, friendship and with a willingness to listen. In particular we can share with them our experience and expertise in constitutional law, political systems, public freedoms and also press freedom.
The third necessary implication is that we must change the way we look at the Arab world. We, French, thought we knew these societies very well – we have longstanding and solid ties with them. But the “Arab spring” caught us on the hop and showed us that we didn’t know whole sections of them. Today we need the vision of the artists and students. We need the vision of the bloggers, of those saying “no” and the new players who are emerging.
Hence this symposium which I wanted to convene so that we could compare our points of view, analyses and ideas.
It’s also what I’m making a point of doing myself: since my appointment, I have been to Egypt to meet the players in the 25 January protest. Very soon I’ll be going to Tunisia, the cradle of this “Arab spring”, destined tomorrow to be an important anchor point for democracy on the southern shore of the Mediterranean.
Finally, it’s the purpose of the message I’ve given our ambassadors in the Arab countries whom I brought together yesterday in Paris, asking them to widen their spectrum of interlocutors to include all civil society players. For too long, we have knowingly or unknowingly been a bit too limited in our contacts, confined to the powers that be, if I can put it like that. I believe that we have to talk to and swap ideas with everyone who respects the rules of the democratic game and, of course, the fundamental principle of rejecting all violence.
Mr Ben Salem told us earlier that the Islamists were going to surprise us. You’re on! Surprise us, that’s all I ask. And we’re going to surprise you, because we aren’t at all in a frame of mind to stigmatize the Muslim world or Muslim religion, but quite on the contrary, for dialogue with it. And I even make you a proposal: let’s talk together about what secularism means, for you, for us, perhaps we’ll be able to find common ground. France has a tremendous diplomatic toolbox for doing this and I’d like to welcome our ambassadors from the North African-Middle East region who, as I said, met yesterday in Paris and have very assiduously attended this symposium. We must simply refocus our political, economic and cultural policy tools in this direction. Today, it’s our whole policy vis-à-vis the Arab world we have to rethink.
Finally, the last necessary implication: the need once again to put our all into finding a solution to the main conflicts persisting in the region.
MIDDLE EAST CONFLICT/LEBANON/IRAN
I’m thinking first of all, of course, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinian people’s aspirations aren’t less legitimate than those of the southern shore’s other peoples. For her part, Israel has the right to live in security and peace. This is why, over the next few months, the idea of a democratic, viable, territorially continuous Palestinian State, living in peace and security alongside the State of Israel, must stop being something we pay lip service to and become a reality. We all know the major parameters of a solution; they must now be implemented. France will not spare her efforts to this end.
I also have in mind the situation in Lebanon. We need a sovereign Lebanon, free to choose her destiny, a Lebanon who is an example in the region of the vitality of democratic institutions and peaceful coexistence between communities.
Finally, I’m thinking of the Iranian issue. On this point, our position is clear: the Iranian power must guarantee its people respect for human rights, resolve the nuclear issue in line with what the international community is asking, and set about developing a positive influence throughout the region.
The second challenge we collectively face is perhaps the toughest and most urgent to take up: it’s an economic and social challenge.
Let’s make no mistake here: if in six months, in a year, we don’t address the populations’ expectations, if in six months, in a year, the young remain deprived of prospects and the peoples are plunged into poverty exceeding anything they have experienced hitherto, nothing will prevent them from succumbing to the temptation of resorting to extremist action. Nothing will stop them throwing themselves into the arms of radicals of every stripe.
So it’s the responsibility of us all to combine our efforts to achieve the emergence of an area of stability and prosperity in that part of the world. It’s our responsibility and in all our interests to enrich still further that “Mémoire des deux rives” [“Recollections from both shores of the Mediterranean”] arising out of our common destiny, in order to allow this “fundamental meeting between East and West” which the great orientalist Jacques Berque appealed for.
Of course, we are conscious of the scale of the task, in a budgetary situation more constrained than ever.
But France has always been at the side of her partners on the southern shore. To support them in this crucial period we have decided to step up our effort by devoting 20% of our official development assistance to them for the next few years, with three complementary objectives: support for job-creating growth, support for social change and the protection of the Mediterranean Sea. Of course, this support will have to take account of objectives we have to meet, such as those of our migration policy. I clearly understood the messages delivered earlier, allow me to disagree with the opinion of those who regard France as a closed country. When every year you take in 200,000 legal immigrants, you aren’t completely closed. Similarly, we must all take account of our respective constraints.
Let me add that we are fully mobilized to ensure that the southern Mediterranean retains a key place in the European Union’s neighbourhood policy. We got agreement that at least two thirds of that policy’s budget will continue going to it. Faced with the scale of the needs, we’ve also got agreement on aid being granted to a greater extent on the basis of incentive systems, on sensible conditions that don’t make it dependent on the immediate achievement of all the European democratic standards, but take account of the direction taken and the will to achieve the objective, which encourage the will for reform and penalize countries which don’t respect their commitments on governance or respect of human rights. We are keen for this neighbourhood policy now to be a major tool in our partnership with the southern shore of the Mediterranean.
As you know, this premonitory initiative which President Sarkozy launched in 2008 came up against the deadlock in the Middle East peace process, and is today up against the revolutions on the southern shore. Nevertheless, we consider that this initiative remains more necessary than ever. We have decided to recast it to make it into a balanced partnership based on concrete projects.
It’s with this in mind that we are going to strengthen the Union for the Mediterranean secretariat, particularly with the appointment in the near future of a new Secretary-General.
This is why, over and above the projects which have already been launched, such as the Mediterranean Solar Plan and Motorways of the Sea, we are going to start new initiatives such as the Mediterranean Youth Office. Indeed, I am keen to see stepping up youth exchanges being one of the Union for the Mediterranean’s priorities. It’s through tangible achievements that we’ll be able to create de facto solidarities between the two shores. And let me appeal to you: I know that whenever I talk about the Union for the Mediterranean, I arouse reactions of scepticism, in both north and south, people say to us, “It hasn’t worked, it won’t work”. Obviously, if you think there’s no reason for it to work, we won’t succeed. I think it’s necessary, I think that if we don’t manage genuinely to reduce the development gaps between our common sea’s northern and southern shores, all our fine speeches will be pointless both at the political level and when it comes to controlling migration flows. The aim is clearly to enable the men and women of the south who wish to do so to stay in their home countries, to work there, to enjoy their fundamental freedoms and a good quality of life. This is also the thrust of everything we’re doing through the neighbourhood policy and through the Union for the Mediterranean, so help us, you southern countries, by trusting these processes and supporting us in these revitalization efforts.
Ladies and gentlemen,
“If, one day, a people desires to live, then fate will answer their call.
And their night will then begin to fade, and their chains break and fall.” (1) At the heart of this “Arab spring” to which we’ve just devoted this day, these lines of the great Tunisian poet Abou El Kacem Chebbi strike a special chord.
From one shore to the other, let’s find it in ourselves to unite our efforts to be at the rendezvous of history and address the peoples’ aspirations. Let’s play our full role, true to our common values of freedom, generosity and respect for human rights and the rights of women, to achieve, with the Arab world, the emergence of an area of peace, stability and for exchange in the Mediterranean. Personally, I have to tell you that I am full of confidence and hope.
(1) Translated by Elliott Colla.