Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Liberal International British Group’

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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When China Rules the World

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 23rd May, 2011

Chinese Liberal Democrats and the Liberal International British Group (LIBG) scored a first this evening when they enticed former editor of ‘Marxism Today’, Martin Jacques, to address a packed meeting in the Board Room at the Liberal Democrats’ HQ in Cowley Street, Westminster, on the theme ‘When China Rules the World’. Martin’s book of the same name has been enjoying success in some unlikely places; a Latvian edition has been arranged, for example. But his theme is of truly global interest. His thesis is that China is growing economically even faster than had been thought previously. It has already leap-frogged Japan to become the second largest economy, behind the United States. And it will move into first place before too long. More contentious was Martin’s argument that the Chinese currency, the renminbi, will overtake the US dollar as the preferred currency of trade within a generation, initially in East/South East Asia. One has to remember that the RMB isn’t even convertible yet and few people believe that will happen before 2020. But what does seem certain is that by that symbolic date, China will effectively be the world’s Number One, as the USA continues its relative decline. I raised the issue of sustained unity: on several occasions in China’s long history, the Middle Kingdom has broken up. If that were to happen again, it would throw a spanner in the works. Nonetheless, all the indicators point to the 21st Century belonging to China — but with some of the other BRICs, notably Brazil and India, snapping at its heels and even Indonesia rising fast.

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Ashdown’s Law

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 30th June, 2009

Paddy Ashdown 1Sweltering temperatures did not deter the expectant crowd that attended the second Tim Garden memorial lecture, delivered this evening at Chatham House by Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, following wine and twiglets in the RIIA’s St James’s town house. The basement lecture hall itself — though windowless — is actually one of the few places in the capital that has functioning air-conditioning, so those who had survived the reception were given a chance to recover and be entertained at the same time. Paddy was on fine form, declaring that three factors have fundamentally altered the world we live in today: (1) the pattern of world power has shifted, from a monopolar, US-dominated reality to a multipolar situation in which new superpowers such as China, India and Brazil are rightly asserting their importance; (2) there has been a horizontal shift of power away from nation states and their governments to non-state actors, NGOs, communities and individuals; and (3) globalisation means everything connects with everything else. He also propounded an Ashdown’s Law: that one can only achieve results if you work with other people. None of this may sound very profound, perhaps, but he expressed it beautifully and the gist was all very sound.

However, Baroness (Shirley) Williams stumped Paddy with a two-pronged question — the latter part about global elites — during the question time, prompting him to suggest that she should be invited to give the Tim Garden lecture next year. Liberal International British Group, which sponsors the event, could certainly do worse, though there is no reason now that the event seems to have become an instant institution why LIBG shouldn’t look abroad for future speakers as well.

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Russell Johnston Remembered at the NLC

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 2nd March, 2009

russell-johnston-presentation-1   Simon Hughes, MP, presented a framed photograph of the late Lord Russell-Johnston to Rev Paul Hunt, Chairman of the National Liberal Club, this evening, on behalf of Liberal International British Group (LIBG). The portrait will hang near the offices of Liberal International, which are on the ground floor of the NLC building. The original wake and reminiscences planned by LIBG for 2 February in memory of Russell were thwarted by snow. A replacement commemorative event will be scheduled for June, after the European elections, but in the meantime it would have been a shame to deprive Russell of his due place among the gallerty of Liberal greats for another three months. He was a magnificent internationalist, a magnificent European and above all, a magnificent Liberal, who served in the Westminister parliament for many over 30 years as MP for Inverness, before finding his true vocation as President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg. He is much missed and fondly remembered.

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LIBG Forum on the US Elections

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th October, 2008

A dismayingly large percentage of the British electorate has shown little inclination to turn out in recent elections, but I suspect that several millions would just love to have a vote in the US presidential election next month. There is a rational case to make that the result of that contest will have more of an impact on our lives than many of the votes we are able to take part in. So it was maybe not surprising that the Forum on the US elections Liberal International British Group (LIBG) put on at the National Liberal Club tonight attracted a capicty audience; in fact, there were even people standing at the back.

We had a great line-up of speakers: Bill Barnard, Chairman of Democrats Abroad, (Lord) Chris Rennard, Chief Executive of the Liberal Democrats (who gave a most entertaining account of gate-crashing events at the recent Denver Democrat Convention) and Nick Childs, former Washington correspondent and now political correspondent of the BBC Wotld Service. There is little doubt that if Brits — indeed, almost any other nationality — could vote, Barack Obama would win by a landslide. But we can’t. And the Sarah Palin phenomenon, which leaves most Europeans open-mouthed with disbelief, taps into a certain genuine American small-town conservative religious vein. The contest is far from over. I suspect that far more Brits will be sitting up to watch the results on US election night next month than at any other previous US presidential contest.


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Is a Two-State Solution Still Viable?

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 17th September, 2008

Liberal International British Group (LIBG) maintained its tradition of stimulating lively political debate by holding a fringe meeting at the Liberal Democrats’ Bournemouth Conference last night on the question of whether a two-state solution in the Middle East is still viable. This is a taboo subject in some quarters — indeed, I am not aware that any other major British political party has dared address it — but given the fact that most peace plans see a two-state solution as essential, it’s a vital question to ask. Thanks to the continued growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the division of the Palestinian territories into Gaza and the West Bank under mutually hostile administrations, the notion of a coherent Palestinian state seems increasingly in doubt.

That was certainly the line taken by star speaker Jeff Halper, from the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, who is currently on bail for the ‘crime’ of going to Gaza as an Israeli citizen. Not surprisingly, Ghada Karmi, the distinguished Palestinian writer and academic also though things were heading towards a de facto one-state situation. Ran Gidor, from the Israeli Embassy, put up a spirited defence of Israeli determination to see a two-state solution work, while Willie Rennie, MP, who was recently on a parliamentary fact-finding mission to the region, highlighted some of the problems on both sides of the Israeli/Palestinian divide. Lord (William) Wallace provided some wise and firm chairing in a session that understandably roused some passions among some of the attendees. There was no clear conclusion — it would have been surprising if there had been — but it was important that this ‘forbidden’ question be raised.

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Why Jeff Halper Makes Israel Nervous

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 29th August, 2008

 In a welcome softening of its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip’s waters, Israel earlier this week allowed through from Cyprus the two ships Free Gaza and Liberty, which were bringing in humanitarian relief to the stricken territory, as well as 44 peace activists from 17 countries (including Tony Blair’s sister-in-law, Lauren Booth). The plan is that the ships will also transport out of Gaza some of the Palestinian Fulbright scholars who were granted scholarships by the United States, but were then prevented by the Israelis from travelling overland out of the strip. However, the Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni — who has high hopes of becoming Prime Minister following the expected departure of Ehud Olmert — told the conservative mass-circulation Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonot that this was a ‘one-off’ case and warned that other craft should not attempt to break the naval blockade.

Unfortunately, the good publicity Ms Livni could have expected from this move was undermined by the fact that the one Israeli Jew on board the two ships, the US-born professor of anthropology and key figure in the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, Jeff Halper, was later arrested when he attempted to cross the land border between Gaza and Israel. Under current Israeli law it is an offence for an Israeili citizen to be in Gaza (though as Jeff Halper is also a US citizen, that legal argument is a little nuanced). Anyway, he was arraigned to appear in court in Ashkelon yesterday. A cynic might observe that it is a pity it is not also an offence under Israeli law for Israeli citizens to be in the occupied West Bank, as about half a million of them have taken up residence in settlements there, in controvention of international law.

Assuming Jeff Halper — who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 — does not have to spend much time in custody, he will be coming to the United Kingdom next month, and he will be one of the keynote speakers at the Liberal International British Group’s fringe meeting on ‘Middle East: Is a Two-state Solution Still Viable?’ at the Liberal Democrats’ autumn conference in Bournemouth, on 16 September.

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George Robertson’s Tim Garden Memorial Lecture

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 11th June, 2008

Relatively early votes in both Houses of Parliament tonight meant that a good cross-section of LibDem MPs and peers were able to join members of Liberal International British Group and other interested parties at the inaugural Tim Garden Memorial Lecture, given by Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, former NATO Secretary General. He urged people not to sink into pessimism in the face of global threats, but to work together multilaterally for a more peaceful and equitable world, not least through a reformed United Nations (with a more representative Security Council) and enhanced regional cooperation.

In a passage that would have pleased Tim, he argued, ‘For as long into the future as we can see, the transatlantic alliance and NATO will be the key foundation stone of our security and a key contributor to wider international security and stability. But in order to strengthen the alliance, to give both Europeans and Americans more strategic options, and to address deep concerns over burden-sharing against a backdrop of events in Iraq and Afghanistan, Europe must do, and must be seen to do more. The kind of European effort I have talked about here will strengthen NATO, not undermine it, and that has to be to the benefit of all of us.’

George Robertson also paid eloquent tribute to Tim’s memory, ‘Whether in the RAF or in Chatham House, or in the House of Lords where he took to the lawmaking job like few ex-military men, he spoke simply, understandably and with authority… Tim commanded by his style and decency, respect and admiration and considerable affection and in that he left us an enormous and valuable legacy from which we will all benefit. We miss him but his spirit lives on.’



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The First Tim Garden Memorial Lecture

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 22nd May, 2008

 The inaugural lecture in what will be an annual event, in memory of the much missed Liberal Democrat peer and foreign affairs, defence and security expert, Tim Garden, will be given at the National Liberal Club in London on Wednesday 11 June, 7pm for, under the auspices of the British Group of Liberal International (of which Tim was President). The Rt Hon the Lord Robertson of Port Ellen — the former Labour Defence Secretary and NATO Secretary General, George Robertson — will speak on ‘Globalised Threats: how can the ordered world confront them?’ It’s a ringing tribute to Tim’s legacy that such a distinguished guest will be the first in what we hope will be a long line of eminent men and women in the fields to which Tim devoted most of his professional life. There is no charge for the event, which is open to non-members, but in order to help arrangements, people intending to go are asked to send an email to As with all functions in the National Liberal Club, gentlemen are requested to wear a jacket and tie.  

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The Highs and Lows of Malcolm Bruce

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 21st May, 2008

In a fortnight’s time, Malcolm Bruce, MP, will be celebrating 25 years as the Member for Gordon, but earlier this evening, he was the guest speaker at the National Liberal Club’s annual Chairman’s Dinner. That in itself was something of an innovation, as often these dinners have just been an occasion for socialising after the Club’s AGM. But the current NLC Chair, Paul Hunt, has taken the admirable decision to raise the level of political debate within the Club, and Malcolm was an inspired choice. Having not prepared a speech (as he endearingly admitted), he spoke off the cuff about the Highs and Lows of his parliamentary career, which was far more entertaining than most set speeches.

Among the lows (putting aside his failed bid for the party leadership) was the occasion when he and Paddy Ashdown had virtually to rugby-tackle Bob Maclennan to stop him storming out of a House of Commons committee room into a corridor full of journalists when the ‘Dead Parrot’ document was roundly rejected by his colleagues. Fortunately, time is a great healer, and we can now laugh about such things.

Amongst the high points has been Malcolm’s current position as Chairman of the (cross-party) Committee on International Development, which has taken him to many obscure corners of the world (and deeply enhanced his role as President of Liberal International British Group). Malcolm paid tribute to much of what the current government (and the Department for International Development, DFID) has been doing. And he contrasted the way that China has responded to the recent earthquake (with appeals and appreciation for outside help), with the monstruous policies of the Burmese junta, who appear not only indifferent to their own people’s suffering, but are actively making it worse.


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