Nick Clegg is today visiting Egypt, to announce a package of British grants and aid to support the democratic process and economic reform. In a speech to young Egyptian political activists, the Deputy Prime Minister is expected to say:
I know many of you are worried that the momentum for change in Egypt is being lost. So I want to make it crystal clear that the UK will stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you as we work together to help Egypt complete this journey. The hopes and dreams that drove the revolution must be turned into a fair and plural politics...like you, we want to see a clear and credible timetable for transition, along with a lifting of the harsh and outdated Emergency Law. Security must be restored to the streets. And Egyptians deserve clear guarantees on human rights including women's rights. Citizens of all backgrounds and faiths must be assured of their place in Egypt’s future, and all minorities must be given proper protections under the law. Anyone who wants more democracy and less extremism in the world must see that Egypt is the best place to start. Where you lead, others will follow, and the UK is with you every step of the way.
In today's Independent, Mr Clegg reinforces that message, writing:
It isn't just Egypt's future at stake. The Arab Spring has created a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for peace, prosperity and democracy on Europe's southern shores. But uncertainty in Egypt puts that prospect at risk. In different ways, in Yemen, in Syria, and across North Africa, the Near East and the Gulf, citizens are demanding greater freedoms. Failure in the region's biggest state would puncture their spirit, emboldening regimes who still believe they can sidestep reform. Continued instability would create fertile ground for extremists. And it would make it even harder for Israel and the Palestinians to find lasting peace.
Note that he does not say that the Israel/Palestine conflict is an obstacle to solving the the region's problems; rather, he says that the region's problems are an obstacle to resolving the Israel/Palestine conflict - I could not agree with him more.
I strongly commend Mr Clegg and the Coalition Government for this latest effort to bolster moves towards democracy and good governance in countries affected by the recent wave of change across the Middle East and North Africa. The alternative, as Mr Clegg writes, is "continued instability (that) would create fertile ground for extremists." This is especially urgent in the light of the predicament of Egypt's Christians, and the problems faced by Jewish communities across the region. This visit to Egypt follows Mr Clegg's previous strong speeches on the Arab Spring, including his saying:
Successful revolutions may change the world overnight. But, in many ways, it's the morning after that the real work begins...(We) will support a range of political projects, from assisting fledgling movements as they turn into organised political parties, to setting up parliamentary procedures for new legislatures, putting in place processes to prevent corruption, staffing projects to engage women and other marginalised groups, giving technical assistance to help replace state media monopolies with a plural press and helping register huge numbers of people who have never voted before...We've committed resources to this - £110m over the next four years with £20m now set aside specifically for Libya...(Don't) ever underestimate this stage of reform. This is when you lock in a revolution. This is when you turn the hopes and dreams of millions of citizens into the institutions and practices of a well-functioning state.
As I wrote previously: "Clegg is here clearly leading the Liberal Democrats away from any notion that the UK could be 'neutral' on the relative merits of democracy and other systems. He is saying that democracy works best and that the UK will take practical steps to foster its development across the Middle East and North Africa."
Nick Clegg is today announcing measures that deserve the support of anyone (including friends of Israel) who wants Egypt to avoid the path of extremism and conflict. I wrote previously about five Egyptian liberal parties uniting to create the Democratic Front Party, which will be a crucial opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood's new Freedom and Justice Party. It is parties like Democratic Front that will defeat the Muslim Brotherhood, if it is indeed to be defeated; the Brotherhood will not be defeated unless decent, democratic political parties stand strongly against it in Egypt's upcoming elections. The Democratic Front Party is a member of Liberal International and the party's International Officer, Mohammed Nosseir, was a welcome presence at the UK Liberal Democrats' recent party conference, demonstrating Egypt's progress towards democracy - although there is a long way to go, hence the need for international help of the sort that Nick Clegg is pledging today.