Europe must respond courageously to the problems of the Middle East
London - In January 2011 British Conservative Party Member of Parliament Daniel Kawczynski visited Tunisia as part of an official delegation. The country was about to make history.
“It was a very eerie atmosphere. The roads were all quiet and we sensed something was afoot. There was something not quite right, we had been kept away from people,” he said.
Three days later, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia’s ruler for 23 years, stepped down and what became known as the “Arab spring” swept the region.
It was not the first time Kawczynski witnessed events that presaged seismic regional change. Britain’s first Polish-born member of parliament, Kawczynski witnessed the end of communist rule in his native country, an event that sparked the end of the Soviet Union.
“Poland became a free country in August 1989 and then you saw one by one all of the Central and Eastern European countries falling like dominos,” Kawczynski said.
In the early days of the “Arab spring” uprisings, analysts were quick to draw parallels to those events in Eastern Europe. It was not to be.
“We saw great hope as the revolution spread to Egypt and Libya but unfortunately we see a situation now as is only too well known,” Kawczynski said. “Some countries are still fighting and Syria and others are being taken over by radical terrorist organisations.”
In the face of these reversals, European leaders struggled to formulate a united response, a failing for which Kawczynski says Europe will pay the price. He said, “History has taught us what happens if Europe is not united and does not respond appropriately, courageously to problems in its neighbourhood.”
It is an area, argues Kawczynski, in which Britain can play a constructive role. The era of unilateral interventions, what Kawczynski refers to as “gunboat diplomacy”, are over and Britain must use its diplomatic weight to build the consensus necessary to help resolve the crises of the region.
“Britain is a permanent member of the UN Security Council. We are unique in having that extraordinary position… people will look to us to use that position in the UN to try to bring together countries within the region to try to resolve these problems,” said Kawczynski.
Libya is one area in which Kawczynski says a lack of unity has come at a high price, something he said he intends to redress by standing to be chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, the parliamentary body with oversight of British foreign policy.
“We must not take our eye off the ball… as to what is happening in Libya,” he said, “because I see that as a massive threat not just to European but to global stability.”
Kawczynski describes Libya as “a perfect laboratory” for the Islamic State (ISIS), with the real prospect of Libyan oil wealth being used to propagate terrorism. Regional powers need to be encouraged to engage to reach a solution to the political impasse that is allowing ISIS to expand.
“We cannot do it all by ourselves militarily but I think we ought to be working with neighbouring countries, quite powerful neighbouring countries such as Egypt, to try to take appropriate steps to destroy ISIS,” Kawczynski said. “They are causing untold misery and chaos within Libya.”
Once the necessary coalitions are formed to help start redressing the chaos in Libya, radical solutions may need to be considered. “I have said repeatedly here in the United Kingdom that almost every conceivable attempt to bring peace to Libya has spectacularly failed and we need to start looking at blue sky, maybe controversial or unthinkable solutions,” he said.
One possibility could be a return to a pre-Qaddafi constitutional monarchy.
“I know Crown Prince Mohammed, who lives in London. He and his family were expelled by [Muammar] Qaddafi after the revolution. He is somebody who I know cares passionately about his country, [and] the Senussi family in Libya has a very deep-rooted respect from society,” Kawczynski said. “If we could have a constitutional monarchy to bring about some semblance of uniformity and bringing the country together then that’s something I don’t think we ought to discount.”
Libya is divided into east and west with rival governments and parliaments. The Senussi family has historically had much more support in eastern Libya, although there does not appear to be a popular clamour for a return of the monarch. Improving the tense relationship between Britain and Russia, says Kawczynski, is important for building coalitions to address regional problems.
“I’m very concerned that some of the intemperate language that’s being used towards the Russians is ratcheting up tensions between the two countries,” he said. “I worry about that because we will need Russia’s help on the UN Security Council and we will need Russian cooperation and assistance to deal with Syria, Iraq and Libya.”
A European failure to form a united approach that includes Russia and Middle Eastern powers, argues Kawczynski, will benefit nobody.
“As ISIS get more confident, so the situation for us will be increasingly more difficult to leverage them out of these countries. That’s why concerted action needs to be implemented now,” Kawczynski said.