North Africa and the Middle East

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 3:30 pm on 17th March 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of William Bain William Bain Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 3:30 pm, 17th March 2011

There is a range of views on this, and we should proceed very carefully and in full recognisance of all the arguments before taking steps over the next few days, particularly on arms.

It is clear that any no-fly zone would require a sound legal mandate invoking chapter VII of the UN charter where possible. There are also practical difficulties in enforcing a no-fly zone against helicopters, as a breach of it might require attacks against ground targets.

The humanitarian situation in Libya and its neighbouring states has worsened over the past few weeks, with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reporting that more than 280,000 people have fled Libya and crossed the borders into Tunisia and Egypt. This week, the UNHCR reported that people seeking to flee combat areas in search of refuge are unable to do so or are being prevented from doing so, with a particularly critical situation affecting trapped refugees and asylum seekers who have been detained. We should support

UNICEF in its efforts to make an immediate response to alleviate the humanitarian crisis as soon as it can safely enter the country.

The key point is that the international community cannot abandon the Libyan people in this time of need. This must not be another situation like 1992 where, having supported the Shi’a community in Iraq, we then abandoned them when Saddam began to attack them and gave little other than moral support thereafter.

In the few moments remaining I will turn to some of the other states in the neighbouring areas. In Bahrain, movement towards a genuine constitutional monarchy seems to me to be the most likely step to bring about reconciliation and progress. Other middle east Governments must respond to the movements for political and economic reform, such as those in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. As many Members have said, we need to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and secure a viable Palestinian state, cohabiting alongside an Israeli state, in order to begin the process of providing a better future for people in the region.

I saw some very interesting data from the Pew global attitudes project last year, which found a decline in support in the Muslim world for radicalism and terrorist attacks. I think that that shows the genuine beliefs of the people in the middle east. They want peace and security and, above all, economic development and reform. As Secretary of State Clinton set out in her speech in Doha on 13 January, there are many signs of the potential for a new and innovative middle east, but there are also huge problems, such as mass youth unemployment, which is approaching 20%, a stagnant political order and depleted resources. We in the west can play our part by securing a completion of the WTO Doha round to liberalise trade and to encourage growth in poorer states, and by building links between the EU and the middle east and north Africa.

Developing civil society, helping to reform the economy and helping the peoples of the middle east and north Africa to increase their human rights and freedoms will be vital to their future and to the security of the region, and in an interconnected world it will be increasingly important for our security here at home in Britain, too.