European Council and North Africa — Statement

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 8:12 pm on 7 February 2011.

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Photo of Lord Howell of Guildford Lord Howell of Guildford Minister of State (Foreign and Commonwealth Office) (International Energy Policy) 8:12, 7 February 2011

On the question of co-ordination with the United States, my honourable and right honourable friends, both in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and, obviously, in the Government as a whole, are in constant contact at all levels with United States officials. It would be naive, however, to stand at the Dispatch Box and pretend that these huge upheavals and events do not present to policy-makers and experts, no doubt in Washington and other capitals, something of a dilemma.

The pattern of the past produced a sort of stability, but it was the kind of stability that could be upset at every moment, as it was. The combustible materials were there; it was a question of when someone threw in a match. That is what happened in Cairo. That raises for the most balanced and clear-thinking people a dilemma as to whether the new pattern is going to improve on the old pattern or, indeed, where the new pattern will take us. We all know the adage about revolutions devouring their own children. They can turn into an opportunity to be seized for the good, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was rightly saying the other morning, or they can slide away in an unpredictable series of sequences, like the French Revolution, to which I referred earlier.

It is hard to answer the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, about how we and the Americans can be totally accurate in our predictions and the certainty of where to go. It is very difficult. We are monitoring and watching the situation very carefully, as are the Americans. We are reinforcing our concern in this nation and the American concern in their nation for liberty and freedom and the basic principles of civilised existence. We are hoping that these patterns will be reflected in whatever emerges in Egypt and, indeed, in other turbulent political scenes in the region. There is no guarantee or certainty, however, and this must be realistically and reasonably understood.

As for the pattern of power deployment inside Egypt and whether Omar Suleiman is now taking the reins, I do not think that I can comment beyond what we have all read in the newspapers. Mr Mubarak clearly wants to stay a few more months. He has appointed Omar Suleiman to take the lead in these negotiations. It is right that our leaders should contact him to understand as much as we can of how he sees the situation. This must be a dialogue that will, I hope, develop further in the future as we see what path these discussions take and what part the Muslim Brotherhood leadership and other political forces in Egypt play in them. This is really, for us, a matter to hope about rather than a matter in any way to interfere with. This is for Egypt to decide.