Last Updated: Wed Jul 20, 2011 08:29 am (KSA) 05:29 am (GMT)

Muna Khan / Single Entry: Europe and the Arab Spring today

Germany did not want to participate in the airstrikes against Muammar Qaddafi. (Illustration by Amarjit Sidhu And Farwa Rizwan )
Germany did not want to participate in the airstrikes against Muammar Qaddafi. (Illustration by Amarjit Sidhu And Farwa Rizwan )

Six months may be nothing as far as relationships go, but it’s a lifetime in politics and conflict. As far as events in the Arab Spring (forever relegated to one season) go, patience isn’t just running out amongst the protestors defying authoritarian regimes or the opposition members trying to oust said regimes but also amongst international leaders whose initial cheerleading now sounds like squeaks.

I’m always laying blame on Arab dictators for failing to get the message from their own people – and crushing them in the process -- but it’s time to look at European reaction, six months on from the euphoria.

This can certainly be gauged by Germany’s sale of 200 tanks to Saudi Arabia in a multi-billion Euro deal which has some German lawmakers up in arms as they believe it goes against the country’s export policy on military hardware.

Th4e kingdom has already bought 44 Leopard tanks out of the 200 it is expected to procure over the next months. A member of the opposition Green party, Katja Keul told Reuters on July 3 that the sale was “a breach of the weapons export guidelines” adding that the tanks comes under a list of weapons that cannot be exported to crisis regions.

Now you’re absolutely right to say that Saudi Arabia is not in crisis. A woman demanding the right to drive is hardly reason to procure such stellar tanks.

Moreover, Germany wouldn’t stoop so low as to cross its own guidelines and sell warfare – or engage in business with nations that do not address women’s issues, human rights, social injustices and the lot.

Germany, like other European nations, is above this.

Clearly, I don’t do sarcasm very well; it’s just another thing I can add to my list of things I don’t do well.

One had expected European nations to review their foreign policies after events in Tunisia and Egypt to reflect a more human rights-oriented one. None of this supporting dictators till the end because it suits our economies.

I believe I excel in naiveté.

“International security threats take priority,” said German’s Defense Minister Thomas Maiziere when referring to the tank sale to Saudi.

Over human rights, I remind you.

Don’t forget this coming from the government that did not want to participate in the airstrikes against Muammar Qaddafi whose regime, it is fair to say, commits gross human rights violations on a daily basis. Also, it’s not really kicked up a huge fuss about its brethren’s inaction on Syria, where if memory serves, people die on a fairly regular basis there.

At least the French have their heart in the right places in wanting to release the Libyans from the clutches of the mad man (once their mad man) Colonel Qaddafi. It began attacking Libya in March and had 60 percent of the public behind it. However, as the war drags on and costs the government $1.4 million a day (I’m repeating a day for extra effect) is it any wonder that public support has dropped to below 50 percent? Libya is, after all, the third nation that France has its troops engaged in military conflict – Afghanistan and Ivory Coast being the other two. This at a time when their defense budget is spread rather thin but, perhaps President Nicolas Sarkozy does this because he hopes victory in Libya (at least) will absolve his country’s earlier involvement with despotic regimes.

The second awakening of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Egypt and continued violence in Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Syria pose new challenges for European nations. The once peaceful streets of Tunis and Cairo are awash with violence again as the new order tries to establish, well, a new order.

Perhaps Germany’s sale of the warfare reflects a fatal resignation to the region. That change ain’t happening as quickly as they anticipated so why…bother?

The only fatality would be if this approach is to continue. Democracy is far more important than stabilizing the region as seen by (in this case) Germany’s staunch allies in the Middle East. Each nation has the right to purchase weaponry to protect its borders but given that most nations have this year used them to quash peaceful demonstrators asking for the very rights that Europe champions is disgraceful.

It can sell arms on conditions that changes are made in legal systems that reflect values found in Europe. It can aid and assist in the building of stronger infrastructures that allow for the development of democratic institutions. Most importantly it can assist in ensuring its generous financial assistance is put to good use.

(Muna Khan, Senior Correspondent and Columnist for Al Arabiya English, can be reached at muna.khan@mbc.net)

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