The G7 summit should remember 2011 pledges
WASHINGTON - Five months into the “Arab spring”, in May 2011, the Group of Eight (G8) richest industrialised countries issued a ringing declaration of support for the democracy movement in the Arab world, a “historic transformation” they likened to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the profound geopolitical change that followed.
The G8 summit in the French resort of Deauville pledged assistance for political reform and billions of dollars in economic aid to Arab countries moving towards “free, democratic and tolerant societies”. Democracy, the leaders proclaimed, was “the best path to peace, stability, prosperity, shared growth and development”.
Things did not turn out as expected. Four years on, as leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) -- Russia was expelled from the exclusive club for undemocratic behaviour — gather to meet in Germany, they might do well in rereading their 2011 “Arab spring” declaration and reflecting on the perils of wishful thinking and of making promises difficult to keep.
How much of the aid pledged in 2011 was actually disbursed is a question without precise answers but most experts agree that it fell short of the $40 billion pledged (plus another $35 billion from the International Monetary Fund (IMF)) and that aid was slow in coming. That was true even for Tunisia, widely considered the “Arab spring’s” only success story. A year and a half after Deauville, Tunisian Central Bank Governor Chadli Ayari remarked that it had been naïve to expect aid to flow quickly.
The G7 summit at a castle near the Bavarian mountain resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen is held under the motto: Think ahead. Act Together. The agenda of the meeting points to changed priorities — the fight against ISIS trumps the Deauville Partnership with Arab Countries in Transition, which was founded in 2011 to hasten reform and coordinate international support.
The partnership includes the G7 countries — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States — as well as Morocco, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Judging from the agenda, there is more G7 attention on Sub- Saharan Africa this time than on the Arab region. African leaders, including Nigerian president-elect Muhammadu Buhari and the leaders of Ethiopia, Liberia and Senegal, received invitations to attend the summit’s second day. The inclusion of Ethiopia’s Hailemariam Desalegn raises questions on a topic Western leaders are reluctant to discuss in the context of foreign aid — human rights.
Ethiopia’s human rights record is bleak but, at least as far as the United States, the G7’s most weighty member, is concerned the fact that the government stifles dissent and civil liberties is outweighed by the country’s importance in counter-terrorism operations.
That holds true for a good number of countries in Africa and the Arab world.
Take Egypt, long the second-biggest recipient of US military aid. That assistance stopped in October 2013, a few months after a military coup ousted the democratically elected Muhammad Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Washington’s condition for resuming the aid: “credible progress” towards democratic reform. There was no such progress. Under President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who led the coup against Morsi, the human rights gains that followed the “Arab spring” were reversed.
Despite mass arrests, mass death sentences (including one for Morsi), a crackdown on free expression and no apparent attempt to investigate the deaths of more than 1,000 people in peaceful anti-government protests in the summer of 2013, Washington resumed military aid in March — 125 M1A1 Abrams tanks, 12 F-16 fighter jets, 20 Harpoon missiles.
The Obama administration gave the green light for weapons deliveries under a legal provision that places the “interests of national security” above a certification of democratic progress.
That line of thinking will not be contested by the G7 leaders meeting in the Bavarian Alps. The Western pursuit of stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East is back in fashion.