Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Liberal International’

Egypt: Where Next?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 3rd June, 2014

Egypt elections 1Egypt elections 2Last night at the National Liberal Club, Liberal International British Group hosted a panel discussion on the political situation in Egypt, with former Nile TV presenter Shahira Amin, democracy activist Ahmed Naguib (via skype), the Treasurer of Liberal International, Robert Woodthorpe Browne (who has been involved in a lot of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s recent work in Egypt) and myself. As the discussion was (rightly) held under the Chatham House Rule, I cannot divulge what any of the others said, but I can share some of the things I talked about. As the two Egyptian participants gave such a comprehenesive and coheremnt picture of today’s political realities and challenges, I complemented their presentations by reminding people about the highs and lows of the mood on Cairo’s Tahrir Square in January/February 2011, including the prominent role played by brave women and the way that Muslims and Christian Copts protected each other when they were at prayer. But those who dubbed the phenomenon that started in Tunisia the previous December “The Arab Spring” were always way out on their time-frame. I believed that then and believe it even more strongly now: it will be 30 or 40 years before it becomes clear how the whole New Arab Awakening works out, but what is sure is that Egypt is the test case of its success or failure. It has always had a pole position in the Arab mentality, not just because it is by far the most populous nation in the the Arab world but also because of Cairo’s (Sunni) religious and intellectual pre-eminence. Field Marshal Sisi’s victory in the recent presidential election was a foregone conclusion, though it was notable that in each electoral district there were tens of thousands of spoiled ballot papers. But for the majority of Egyptians (rather than the wealthier, educated elite) the prime concern at the moment is economic survival: bread not ballots. Western commentators like myself rightly focus on matters such as human rights abuses, including the systematic use of torture in detention centres. But the key thing that any Egyptian government, now and for the foreseable future, has to tackle is how to overcome the huge inequalities in Egypt and to provide enough, reasonably-paid work for the predominantly young population. Otherwise, there is likely to be a growing, disenchanted body of youth who could be tempted by something far more radical than the Muslim Brotherhood that was ousted from power. And that bodes ill.

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Israel: Get Back to the Table!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 26th April, 2014

JF speaking at LI CongressKerry NetanyahuThis afternoon, at the Liberal International Congress in Rotterdam, I successfully moved an amendment on behalf of the UK Liberal Democrats to the Middle East section of the traditional World Today resolution, reviewing topical issues of global concern. Since the text had first been drafted, news came through that Israel was pulling out of talks with the Palestinians because of the new deal between Fatah (the Palestinian Authority) and Gaza’s Hamas, which have agreed to form a joint platform. The British amendment praised John Kerry for working tirelessly to get the peace negotations back on track, but criticised Israel’s Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for pulling the plug on talks. Moreover, negotiating with a united front of Palestinians is more likely to mean that Hamas will clmp down on Islamic Jihad and other extremist groups, I believe. I argued from the position of a Brit who lived through IRA bombings in Manchester and London and therefore understands that one makes peace not with friends but with enemies. I got quite emotional when recalling the state dinner given earlier this month by Queen Elizabeth to the Irish President, at which former Sinn Fein bogey-man Martin McGuinness was welcomed by the monarch, despite the fact that the IRA blew up her cousin, Lord Louis Mountbatten, in 1979. I said that I looked forward to the day when Shimon Peres, or whoever succeeeds him as Israeli President, welcomes Palestinian leaders, including current Hamas figures to his residence, because that will mean that peace and security have become a reality. It saddened — but didn”t suprise — me that the Israelis present protested that we cannot expect them to talk to “terrorists”, and a few prominent pro-Israelis — including outgoing Liberal Internatinal President Hans Van Baalen also oppossed the amendment and the idea that talks should resume. Fortunately, the amendment was carried — albeit by not a very large margin. and with many abstentions — which I thought was a very positive result. One thing that particularly saddens me, however, is that so many Israelis — even many Liberals — don”t realise that their narrative of the conflict doesn’t hold water and that not just Europe but increasingly many Americans (including American  Jews) are no longer prepared to stand up for Israel, right or wrong.

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Syria and R2P

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 13th April, 2013

Syria devastationBashar al-AssadToday at the Liberal International Executive in Beirut there was a special session on Syria, its title asking the provocative question whether the crisis and the international community’s failure to find a resolution to it signals an end to the Responsibility to Protect. Keynote speakers included former LI President John Alderdice, who I have often worked with, and former Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, who I had dealings with when I was doing project evaluation and training for his Democrat Party in Bangkok a few years back. I not surprisingly agreed with almost everything John said though I argued that to call R2P a “doctrine”m as he did, was unfortunate as it is rather a principle of evolving International Law. Kasit, as a good Buddhist, argued that the lessons from Indonesia (Suharto) and Burma (the military junta) suggest that we should not seek revenge for what Bashar al-Assad and his family and cohorts have done, but rather show forgiveness. I countered that the Syrian regime’s crimes have been so heinous that for justice to be done he and his brother Maher should be brought before the International Criminal Court in The Hague (which got a gratifyingly hearty round of applause from the Lebanese present, in particular). I maintained that Western military intervention in Libya had been correct, under R2P, even if the outcome is not entirely smooth, whereas I fear any Western military intervention in Syria would only make things worse. Instead, the Arab League — possibly with the addition of Turkey — should take the lead and try to convene a workable peace conference, though in the meantime considerable diplomatic pressure needs to be brought to bear on Russia and China, two of Syria’s strongest allies.

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Sergei Mitrokhin and Liberals in Russia

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 12th November, 2012

Being a Liberal in Russia is a risky vocation, as putting one’s head above the parapet politically is an invitation to harrassment, arrest, criminal proceedings and heafty fines or imprisonment. High profile anti-establishment activists such as Pussy Riot get lots of foreign media attention and noises of sympathy from the outside world, of course, but even in their case that did not stop two of their number being sentenced to two years detention each in different gulags. Alas, as the leader of Russia’s Liberal Party Yabloko, Sergei Mitrokhin, detailed in a speech at Westminster this lunchtime, the long arm of President Putin’s law is getting firmer. He highlighted three aspects of particular concern regarding the current political situation in Russia and the crackdown against Liberal forces. First, there are the political reprisals, which have seen key Yabloko activists charged — often on false evidence — for demanding action against high-level corruption, for example. Second, Sergei stressed the hardening of laws and the suppression of civil rights under various amendments to the legal and civil codes. One good (i.e. bad) example is an amendment which will mean that Russian NGOs receiving grants from international bodies must now register as “foreign agents”. And last but not least in the litany of adverse developments, is what Sergei called the “clericalisation of the state”, in other words the way that a very conservative form of Russian Orthodoxy has now been melded into a state ideology which is dangerously nationalistic, anti-Western and anti-Liberal. Today’s gathering, at Portcullis House, was sponsored by Simon Hughes MP, Lord Alderdice and Liberal International, and in the discussion period after Sergei Mitrokhin’s speech I inquired exactly what helpful actions groups such as LI and the British Liberal Democrats can take to help Yabloko, without jeopardising its activists. Training in election strategies and techniques is something that I and others from the LibDems have done in various parts of the world, through the all-party Westminster Foundation for Democracy, and that may be the best answer — other than heartfelt moral support.

Link: http://eng.yabloko.ru/

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European Liberal Democrats in the Caucasus

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 13th May, 2012

It was daring — even brave — of the Armenian National Movement to invite the European Liberal Democrats (ELDR) to convene a Council meeting in Yerevan this week, only days after general elections were held in Armenia, about which they have cried foul. ELDR has never had a meeting on such a scale in the Caucasus before, but it was doubly valuable for European Liberal Democrat Council members as the Liberal International organised a side-trip fact-finding mission to Georgia beforehand. I was involved in both, as the (UK) Liberal Democrats’ representative on the Executive of Liberal International and an elected member of the ELDR Council. I was in Armenia six years ago, travelling widely around the country, so it was fascinating to see how the capital Yerevan has been rapidly modernising, though the countryside has changed little and indeed gives the feeling of still being back in the Soviet era, only friendlier. But there was also a big contrast between Georgia (a first for me) and Armenia. In Tbilisi, our Georgian hosts — the Georgia Dream coalition — gave a very critical appraisal of how they see democracy fumctioning in their homeland, whereas the government — who looked after us for half a day — put a different spin on the state of affairs. But whoever was right about whichever issues there is no denying that Georgia is a place willing itself onto an upward trajectory, much aided by the abolition of widespread earlier corruption and personal insecurity. Most Georgians are anxious to get into NATO and one day into the EU as well; the 12-Star flag of Europe is prominant everywhere alongside the Georgian red cross. We were taken to the Line of Occupation on the edge of South Ossetia to remind us of just how close and real the Russian occupational presence is. In Armenia, in contrast, there is more of a Russian flavour to the capital, but of course there is also a big influence of the Armenian expatriate community from France and the United States, some of whom are presumably financing the massive amount of reconstruction going on. In the ELDR Council and contiguous special sessions we heard a lot from NGOs and others about alleged irregularities in last Sunday’s poll. But there was also, among other things, a fascinating session on LGBT Rights in the South Caucasus, organised in conjunction with the two Dutch Liberal parties (the VVD and D66) as well as International Liberal Youth (IFLRY). Just days ago a gay-friendly bar in Yerevan was set alight by far right activists, but nonetheless there is a lot of positive conscious-raising on equality issues (even in Georgia, where over 90% of the population say they disapprove of LGBT activism). The black hole as far as the Armenians are concerned seems to be Azerbaijan, but as I know from a visit there not all that long ago, things are modernising apace in Baku, financed by oil money, even if the regime is pretty authoritarian. All in all, the Caucasus is a region with huge political and economic potential, desperate to be seen as European, while at the same time retaining its diverse specificities.

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Responsibility to Protect

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 14th October, 2011

This afternoon, at the Liberal International Executive at the National Liberal Club in London, I gave a presentation on my paper on Responsibility to Protect, which will be the theme of a day-long conference in the capital tomorrow. I argued that Liberals have to approach the subject from the perspective of their core values, such as freedom, human rights and the Rule of Law. International Law is evolving constantly, and for the past decade or so, R2P — as it’s known in the trade — has become a core issue of concern when governments show themselves unable or unwilling to protect their populations from genocide, gross human rights violations such as systematic rape etc; then there comes a time when the international community must react. Ideally, the first responsibility is to prevent: to take preventive action before things get too bad. Then there might be the responsibility to act: perhaps first by economic sanctions — military intervention must be a last resort, but it will sometimes be necessary. And lastly there is the responsibility to rebuild. As we have seen recently in Libya, such intervention can succeed, when it is genuinely supported not only by a significant proportion of the local population but also by other countries in the region. But often the world is reluctant to intervene or else the UN Security Council blocks things because of the political alignment of one or more of its permanent member states. This may mean that regions increasingly have to take on the role of policing the behavour or countries in their area, though thar is by no means simple in all cases. One hopes tomorrow’s conference might produyce some guidelines.

 

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Aung San Suu Kyi: 65 and Still Not Free!

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 18th June, 2010

Earlier today I joined several of my fellow members of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee, numerous red-bandanna’d young Burmese and other well-behaved protesters outside the Burmese Embassy in London’s Mayfair, marking Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s 65th birthday, which actually falls tomorrow (19th June). I’ll be taking part in a big commemorative gathering in Hendon on Sunday as well. Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) had an election stolen from them by the military in 1990 and she has spent 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest. Many of her NLD colleagues and other political activists — including monks — have suffered far worse imprisonment, torture and death. Alas the world seems impotant to do anything about it, although the condemnations of the military’s behavious has been widespread. US President Barack Obama marked Suu Kyi’s birthday with a plea for her release. She has received many prizes — including Liberal International’s Prize for Freedom — but prizes and pleas are not enough. The Burmese regime, which is oe of the nastiest and least accountable on earth, needs to be brought to its knees or its senses.

[right hand photo courtesy Robert Sharp and English PEN]

 Link: www.burmacampaign.org.uk

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Liberal International Resolution on the Middle East

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th June, 2010

At the weekend Executive of Liberal International in Berlin, I successfully moved (on behalf of the British Liberal Democrats) an urgency resolution following on the recent Israeli attack on the Gaza aid flotilla. Though it was slightly softened after negotiation with the Germans and Dutch, it is by the far the strongest statement to have come out of any of the political internationals so far. Only two people present at the Executive voted against it (both Israelis, surprise, surprise!). The text reads:

Liberal International Executive in Berlin:

– deplores the use of force by Israeli commandos in stopping the flotilla carrying aid to Gaza;

– deplores the violence used by some activists on board the flotilla;

– expresses shock at the resultant deaths and injuries aboard the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, and at the treatment of its crew and passengers;

– demands the resotration of the liberty of the Israeli Arabs who have been on board the flotilla;

– supports the UN Security Council’s call for a prompt, impartial, credible and transparent inquiry into this violent clash between Israeli armed forces and activists to avoid immense future damage to both Israel’s reputation and its security;

– [believes] the inquiry must fully examine the actions of all parties, including claims of weapons possession, and establish the precise facts and responsiblity for the chain of events, and report for consideration to the Security Council;

– strongly calls on the Middle East Quartet, and the US government in particular, to urge all partuies to return to the Road Map and observe international law.

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LibDems The Only True British Internationalists

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 15th March, 2010

The Liberal Democrats are the only truly internationalist party in Britain — as well as being the only committed Europeans — according to the party’s Foreign Affairs spokesman, Ed Davey MP, who gave a brief address at the annual reception for London’s diplomatic corps hosted by the British Group of Liberal International (LIBG) at the National Liberal Club this evening. The warm-up act was (Lord) David Steel, former Liberal Party leader and an earstwhile President of the worldwide Liberal International. Malcolm Bruce MP, LIBG President and Chairman of the House of Commons’ select committee on International Development, ended the formal part of the proceedings by on the one hand welcoming the fact that the Labour government has been moving towards the UN goal of devoting 0.7% of GDP to overseas development aid while on the other, chiding them for not progressing on this more quickly.

It was interesting to see just how many Ambassadors and High Commissioners turned up, which reflects how seriously the Liberal Democrats are being taken by the diplomatic corps in the run-up to what promises to be an exciting election. It was good to spot among those present the High Comissioner of South Africa and the Ambassador of Panama, both of whose countries will be hosting Liberal International meetings in the months to come.

Link: www.libg.org.uk/

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An Evening with Jacob Zuma

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 2nd March, 2010

The timing of the South African President Jacob Zuma’s state visit to Britain is particularly auspicious: it’s the 20th anniversary of the release from prison of Nelson Mandela and today is exactly 100 days before the Republic hosts the FIFA World Cup. An interesting mix of London’s diplomatic corps and the business world rubbed shoulders with old anti-apartheid campaigners such as (Lord) David Steel and Paul Boateng in the Dorchester Hotel’s ballroom tonight. But the message of President Zuma (who brought along only one of his wives to the festivities) and the support staff from the South African marketing board was very much one of selling the country as a progressive and high-achieving brand as it prepares to hosts the Games. The President raised a laugh (given his own recent chequered career) by announcing that South Africa will introduce 24-hour courts to execute ‘instant justice’ during the Games, but it is true that the country needs to reassure the world that it is indeed safe to travel to the World Cup, despite it having the highest per capita murder rate in the world. I will be discovering the reality myself in November when I attend the Liberal International Executive in Cape Town — my first journey back there for many a year. But it’s fair to say that the world wants not only the football bonanza to succeed but the ‘rainbow nation’ championed by Madeba (Nelson Mandela), Desmond Tutu and others as well.

Link: www.fifa.com/worldcup/

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