My Lords, I know that many noble Lords take a close interest in the Middle East and north Africa. This was one reason-there are now, of course, many others-why the Government tabled a debate on recent developments in the region. We are living through and debating momentous times where much is changing. It is always difficult to achieve an effective focus in a debate when matters are not only far from settled but may change even during the course of what we are saying today. Nevertheless, I hope your Lordships will agree that, particularly in this Chamber, we have a role and a duty to stand back a little from the tumultuous broadcasts and the overload of news and information and try to make some sense of the jigsaw of the region on which we are focusing today. I suggest that we focus in particular on the interests of the United Kingdom in this heavily interdependent and highly globalised world.
If I may start with a generality, although obviously there are many details to come, we want to see a Middle East that is stable and outward facing, a region where the pace of growth and development matches the demands of a changing world and whose young and rapidly growing population is enabled, through education and reform, to participate freely and fully in economic and political life. We must never forget that half the population of almost the entire region is under 25. This is an important factor for the people of the region, and all the developments there are vital for our own future prosperity, security and national interest.
I turn to events in Egypt this morning and overnight. President Mubarak has indeed devolved powers, according to his statement, but it appears that, as he proposes things, every step in the transition to a new pattern requires his authorisation. Meanwhile, we have reports this morning that the protests are growing much stronger, there are more people in the centre of Cairo and the protests in other cities around the country are also growing. The army is the factor in the middle of all this and it faces grim options, which it appears to be debating now. One is the obvious one, that it could mount a military coup; we have seen that sort of thing in other countries. Another is that it could hope to control the crowds, who are far from appeased by what President Mubarak has announced. The third, and the one that we must pray against, is that there is the risk of a clash and that massive numbers of people seek to attack key institutions and places, such as the Parliament and the palace, that are heavily guarded. I hardly need to suggest to your Lordships what the result of that might be. We can make no predictions; not the closest expert, not the bravest reporter-the coverage has been conducted by some very brave people-can do that. All I can say is that in about an hour the people of Cairo will come out from their Friday prayers on to the streets, and we will have to see how matters develop from there.
As to the immediate concern that we all have for British nationals and tourists, the travel advice that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has provided still stands: in the big cities, as well as in Luxor and Alexandria, one should travel only if it is absolutely essential. The resorts remain calm and people are travelling to them. Obviously, the advice is to check with one's tour operator, and there are constant updates and daily, even hourly, reports to Ministers. If things change there will be an adjustment but, so far, calmness prevails. That is the immediate report that I wanted to give your Lordships on Egypt. We have some more deliberative ideas to exchange, and I am looking forward to hearing many of them in the debate.
Events in Egypt, as well as in Tunisia and to some extent in other countries, which we will come to, have highlighted long-term grievances in all these places. They have shown that if these frustrations are not sensibly and calmly addressed they may turn into volatility and instability at amazing speed, with huge consequences across the whole region. Economic grievances, such as food costs, have been part of citizens' discontent in Tunisia and particularly in Egypt, the two countries where the movement has been most visible so far.
Political and social frustrations rather than religious or ideological factors have played a significant part. People have been calling for an end to corruption, space for political participation, and equal access to justice and law. We are reminded by these events of the importance of underpinning economic development with sound political reform.
The age of informational technology has played its part. Admittedly, in Egypt the internet and mobiles were cut off at a certain point, but not before huge mobilisation had been achieved through e-enabled electronic media. All this means that the pattern of protest formation gets vastly speeded up and the organisation of protest greatly empowered.
We will recognise in this debate that each of the countries in the region that we are looking at faces quite different pressures. The UN said in the latest of its Arab Human Development Reports, which have been produced each year since 2002, that there are underlying issues of weak governance and limited political, economic and social participation right across the region. These vary enormously from country to country.
The Government's view is that reform must be a home-grown process. Leadership must come from within the countries. The international community, which includes us, should play a positive role in helping to foster reform. This is not about imposing western democratic models and prescribing outcomes and templates, but about promoting the building blocks of more open societies in the regions. It is about working in partnership with the region, taking into account the unique situation in each country.
My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has been travelling for the past few days. He went first to Tunisia on Tuesday where he pledged the UK's support for the democratic aspirations of the people of Tunis and their desire for greater economic development and a more open, political system. He announced the UK's Arab Partnership long-term strategic initiative. That is supported by a new £5 million Arab Partnership Fund to help Governments with the building blocks of more open societies. Through it, we will offer support in areas of UK expertise and reputation: the rule of law, access to justice, freedom of expression, democratic institutions and civil society. That is just one part of broader UK efforts on these issues. It will supplement the already extensive work of DfID in the region, as well as other global Foreign Office programme spending which the Foreign Secretary announced on
As my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in Tunisia at the beginning of this week, this is a time of great opportunity for the Middle East. He praised the courage, dignity and sacrifice of ordinary Tunisians in pursuit of universal freedoms that we often take for granted here. As he highlighted, we are witnessing a remarkable transition in Tunisia. The Government have made encouraging progress in responding to the aspirations of the people. Now, of course, they must ensure that change is swift, comprehensive and irreversible. My right honourable friend also, as the House will know, visited Jordan, the Yemen and Bahrain. I shall have one or two comments to make on those in a moment.
It is for the Egyptian people to determine the leadership of their country and secure-if they can, against the outline of what I have already described to your Lordships-the rapid, orderly transition to a broad-based government with real, visible and meaningful change. It needs to start, if possible, now. The Prime Minister also made this clear in his Statement to Parliament on
In our contacts with partners in the United States, Europe and the wider region, we have discussed how we can help Egypt through these perilous times and its transition. We welcome the European Council's agreement to a new partnership involving more effective support to countries such as Egypt. The scale of European Union support should depend on the extent to which the Egyptian Government are prepared to stand by the commitments that they have already made and take further measures towards meaningful political reform. Frankly, however, in the light of the news now coming in, we will have to be realistic and wait to see how events turn out.
I turn briefly to some of the broader implications for the region, and the central issue, to my mind, of the United Kingdom's interests in the outcomes in the area. First, the Middle East peace process is a concern that many of your Lordships have at the forefront of their minds. My right honourable friend is putting strongly to the Israeli Government and to Washington the point that, unless decisive leadership is shown and bold decisions taken, the two-state solution in the Middle East will get more difficult and may become impossible within a few years as facts on the ground change. That would leave us with decades of potential conflict and even deeper difficulties in the Middle East. Clearly, this is not in the interests of the Israelis themselves, or those of the Palestinians or the wider region. It is not in the UK's interests either. We want to see stable, prosperous Middle East development with a sovereign and viable Palestinian state living in peace alongside a secure Israel at the heart of it.
At this moment, the Israelis are of course wondering about the border between Gaza and Egypt, and whether it stays protected. It appears to do so at the moment. They are also worrying about their peace agreement with Egypt, which has been part of their policy in the past. All of these things are now up for revision and are no doubt being re-examined at this moment.
Let me deal with further implications. First, it is often overlooked that this is not just a western problem. There is an eastern dimension to the whole of what is happening in the Middle East. Chinese influence and investment are everywhere. Chinese warships are in the Mediterranean for the first time in several hundred years. The influence of the rising powers of Asia on the Middle East is heavy and growing. Exports from the Middle East-we are looking immediately more at the oil-producing countries to the east of the region-are increasingly going to the east. Sixty-six per cent of all oil production from Saudi Arabia goes eastwards. A large proportion of China's fossil fuel imports come from this region. This cannot be brushed aside; it is a decisive element in the unfolding pattern of Middle East reform.
As far as we are concerned, there are some energy implications, to which we should not be blind. Egypt itself is not a major energy producer but it has some oil and quite a lot of gas, which it exports through the Arab peace pipeline to Jordan, Syria and Israel. Extraordinarily-perhaps this is often overlooked-Israel relies on Egypt for between 30 per cent and 40 per cent of its daily gas supplies. The continuation of that pipeline is an extremely important element in the situation. All over the region new gas pipelines are being developed, such as the so-called Islamic gas pipeline between Iran, Iraq and Syria. We have to understand that a new pattern of energy transportation and production is emerging in the area.
I will say a little on troubles to the south of Egypt, which should not be ignored. The piracy in the Gulf of Aden and to the south of Somalia gets worse by the day. My right honourable and honourable friends and other Governments are working harder and harder to create a strong focus to deal with what is now a dangerous and threatening problem for world trade and transportation and security.
The countries either side of Egypt and Tunisia and those mentioned by my right honourable friend are all watching this matter closely. Algeria is an area where there could be dangers; it is a vast energy producer and troubles there would have a direct effect on our security and welfare. My right honourable friend visited President Saleh in Yemen and discussed the situation with him. He visited Jordan and talked to the King. He did not have a chance to visit Lebanon this time. He was in Syria two weeks ago. Lebanon's situation is different. In a very delicate and fragile situation the new Prime Minister, Mr Makati, seeks to form a new Government that somehow has the backing of the former
I could say more on Sudan, where good things happened in recent days. We welcome the result of the referendum on south Sudan and the statement that the Government of Sudan will respect the choice of the people and the commitments of the Sudanese leaders in the south. This has so far been a major success story for British policy and that of other countries, including the United States, in an area where we have provided a colossal amount of aid. We make an annual development payment to Sudan of £140 million. We have a very strong team in Juba. Our staff there have performed quite brilliantly. That is all I want to say on Sudan at the moment for simple time limitation reasons.
Part of the reason that we need to work in partnership with the region is to protect our own vital interests. This is not just a broad concern; this is to do with our national interests. We want to promote an environment in which the UK's trade and investment can flourish, including through shared standards and a proper level playing field for business, and encourage economic participation by all members of society. There is an opportunity, as my right honourable friend has emphasised, for countries in the region to tackle problems of corruption and transparency in the way that we have been calling for over many years, and to lay the foundations for balanced democratic development, which will provide them with their own agenda, respect and freedoms. They will have the powers not to be pushed around by the influences of Iran and the outside pressures that they sometimes resent, and to have their own dignity and freedom.
We want to promote opportunity through education and learning and the growth in the activity and capacity of civil society. Our education system, which is highly respected in the region, stands to gain significantly as education in the region opens up. We want to promote fairness through the spread of universal rights and freedoms, which will make countries in the region more reliable and less fragile trading partners for us. Promotion of these reforms is firmly in our national interest. In all of this, we must aim for what is practical, realistic and achievable, and work with international partners, including the European Union, the United States, the G8, the G20, the broader Middle East and north African peace process and international financial institutions. We need to ensure that we complement, rather than compete with, all these existing efforts. In doing so, we will respect the cultural differences of societies where these exist within a framework of international rights.
I have spoken at perhaps more length than I intended in opening this debate but I thought your Lordships would like to know how we see the very latest situation, and on what we should now focus to ensure our interests and the stability and peace of a dangerous and turbulent region. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the debate. I do not think that he spoke for a moment too long. The House was very grateful to hear what he had to say and for his covering the issues so comprehensively. I declare an interest as chairman of the Arab-British Chambers of Commerce and a frequent visitor to the Arab League countries. My other interests are all covered in your Lordships' Register of Interests.
As the Minister has said, events on the ground in the region are moving very quickly and dramatically. For many, the unrest seems to have come as something of a sudden explosion. However, for many of the commentators who have spent time in the region, the sense of unease and growing dissatisfaction, particularly among young people, has been evident not just for several months but for many years. The UNDP report on Arab development, written by Arabs for their Governments some seven or eight years ago, stressed the huge pressure for jobs, particularly for young people. That pressure, it was said, would grow markedly between 2010 and 2020. It was calculated that 100 million jobs-an enormous number-would be needed in the region if it was to meet the needs of a young and growing population. Those populations are growing very fast in every country. Certainly, in Egypt, as we have seen with the activity of young people in Tahrir Square, to which the Minister referred, half the population is aged under 25. Sixty per cent of Saudis are aged under 20-an extraordinary figure.
Education standards have risen throughout the region-in the Maghreb, particularly in Morocco but also in Tunisia; in the Levant, particularly in Jordan; and in the Gulf states, especially in the Emirates and Qatar. These major improvements in education have not been matched by the number of jobs coming on to the market. The shortfall between educational attainment and job opportunity has led to disillusionment and unrest. Most of the Arab League leaders have recognised this for several years. In recent months I have discussed the real problems-indeed, the dangers-of increasing numbers of young, well educated people who have little opportunity. I have discussed it in Libya, the Emirates, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. It is a real difficulty that arises when expectations are raised and then hopes dashed in the reality of disappointment.
Moreover, the increases that we have seen in basic commodity prices have been very sharp and steep. The costs of basic food and energy have risen in Egypt, Jordan, the Maghreb and even in some of the Gulf states. Most of the Governments have been swift to recognise the toxic combination of these price rises and joblessness, particularly after the events in Tunisia. I was in Libya the weekend following President Ben Ali's departure. There were demonstrations even in Tripoli. However, President Gaddafi made a broadcast saying that similar events were not to be anticipated in Libya because of the sound ideology which the people recognised and valued. I understand that a very similar speech was made by President Bashar Assad in Syria. However, the Libyan Government none the less deployed its huge wealth very quickly to subsidise food. The demonstrations that took place in Jordan were much smaller but they prompted the direct injection of money into public services. In Kuwait, the Government even went so far as to make direct payments to their people. Twitter channels have been full of plans for demonstrations this coming weekend. When I was in the region 10 days ago, I watched on the TV rioting in Beirut and near rioting in Cairo. Reports were coming through of unrest in Algeria and Syria and of planned demonstrations in Bahrain and even activity elsewhere in the Gulf.
The desire for democracy and a real say in how one's country is governed is common to all people in all parts of the world. I have never agreed with the argument articulated by some organisations and individuals in the region that somehow democracy is a western ideology being foisted on the rest of the world. The young people in Tahrir Square today are evidence of a burning desire for democracy in the region. Their determination and sense of capturing the moment are, it seems, infectious. But I do think that we have to respond to this with humility. I remember in 2004 when President Bush decided on his agenda for Arab reform, including a move to democracy. He laid out a blueprint for that transition. There was outrage in the Middle East. As Minister for the Middle East at the time, I was asked to hold an urgent meeting with all the Arab League ambassadors in London. They all conveyed the same message and it was a simple one: "Don't tell us how to run our countries. Don't lecture us about democracy. Don't lecture us about reform". This occurred at the same time as the abuses in Abu Ghraib were coming to light, and their other message was not surprisingly, "Don't lecture us about human rights". Indeed, Jack Straw, then Foreign Secretary, had stressed the importance of reform coming from within each country, as the noble Lord has said today. What was right then is right today.
The fact is there is no single blueprint because all the Arab League countries are very different from each other. What may work in Morocco, with its democratic institutions which are now well embedded, will not be acceptable in Syria. What is right in Lebanon, as it precariously forms its Government-that is a delicate operation, as the Minister has said-is not necessarily anything like appropriate in Oman. To be frank, I think that the United States' initiative at that time caused so much offence that many reformers in the region found themselves suddenly accused at home of merely dancing to the American tune. As the White House began to claim that every reform in the region was the result of American diplomacy, the enthusiasm for a home-grown reform agenda faltered. In short, at that time many reformers in the region found that the ground was cut from under their feet. Therefore, I hope that the western powers can resist the temptation to take any credit for what is happening at this time and lay it fairly and squarely where it belongs-on the shoulders of the people of the region.
We are possibly watching history unfold but this is a moment for cool heads and sound judgment-the sort of judgment that plans very carefully for what may happen next. Although the world's attention has been turned from Tunisia to Egypt, the fact is that Tunisia is acting decisively-I applaud the Foreign Secretary for his visit there this week-on human rights, where the Council of Ministers has implemented its plan for the future. Tunisia is embracing the protocols. It has set aside capital punishment and any use of torture by accepting the protocols. It has now accepted the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. It is drawing up rules for fair and free elections on the basis of a public consultation and it is drafting laws on bribery and corruption. As one Tunisian colleague said to me this week, "Our people want the same as all human beings-justice, equality, fairer distribution of wealth, the possibility of participation in political life, better living conditions-above all, better lives for our children".
Meanwhile in Jordan, the new Government have a clear mandate for reform from the king. Everyone I met in Jordan 10 days ago was talking about reform-mostly about economic reform, but some of it was, indeed, constitutional. The street demonstrations there have been relatively small-in the low thousands out of a population of 6 million. The entrepreneurial groups recognised not just the pressing need but the real urgency for reform of government institutions. It was they-the middle-aged, the business people-who were pressing their case so vigorously in Jordan.
The question for us is what help and support we can offer to the institutions growing in the Middle East to find their own way forward. We will not do that by public lecturing-I agree strongly with what the Minister has said on that. The sort of help and support that the British Council gives, and which the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is rightly acknowledged as nurturing, is what is needed. I am glad to hear about the £5 million fund that the noble Lord told us about. It is a good idea, but we already have the institutions in this country that could help so much on the ground. I know that the Minister may find this problematic but, frankly, the cuts being made to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, the British Council and the World Service are just plain wrong. If Ministers really mean what they say about values, democracy, partnership and support, as opposed to making speeches about them, they must recognise that the savings are paltry in their effect on our economy. They are completely misconceived in so far as they are fettering the sort of help that we can give in the region.
We all know that elections are necessary but not sufficient for democracy to flourish. Elections without the rule of law are a licence for the tyranny of the majority over the minority. The rule of law, without human rights to protect the individual against the state, can justify abuse of those who do not conform. However, this is not a one-sided issue. Without proper security there is a threat of instability which attracts groups of people looking for a safe haven for their activities, whether it is promoting extreme ideology or engaging in criminal activity. We can, and should, mobilise the European Union in its dialogue with the Mediterranean Middle East and in its exchanges with the Gulf Co-operation Council. We need to strengthen the EU/Arab dialogue, and we need that to start now. There is a huge range of issues, not just security or counterterrorism, where we should be engaging. We should be talking more about the future resourcing of food and water, oil and gas and cybersecurity, and about human trafficking. Country to country and region to region we need to establish the relationships now which we may need in the very near future. We Europeans are good at that. We understand it, and at times we understand it better than our American cousins.
These changes in the Middle East may lead to real increases in tension with close neighbours-I mean with Israel and Iran. As we all know, elections often mean real change. The unelected have more freedom on how to control security both within their countries and with their neighbours. The Foreign Secretary was right to suggest that the already faltering peace process in the Middle East will not get any easier. Israeli security has in large measure been protected-I argue that it has been guaranteed-by Egypt and Jordan, often in the teeth of virulent criticism from within their countries and sometimes from their neighbours. However, Israel may find attitudes hardening if people on the Arab street have a decisive say in what happens next.
Most recent Israeli Governments have indeed been coalitions, where often the freedom of the ruling party is fettered by the ideology of the coalition partners. Debates in the Knesset are indeed democracy at work, but that democracy has hardened attitudes over what can and cannot be negotiated in the peace process. If Jordan and Egypt at any point in the future have Governments elected on an anti-peace mandate, we shall all be the losers. It is a sobering thought. Democracy may bring us real problems in that respect.
Like many, I believe that trade is a vital component in international relationships, and I applaud the Foreign Office's active engagement. In my day, it was the Business Secretary who went frequently to the Gulf-and very well he did it too. I look forward to our current Business Secretary getting cracking on this agenda, particularly in Saudi Arabia, where there is so much opportunity and so much that can and should be done. However, as I am sure the Minister knows, there is growing concern in the region that the Foreign Secretary's emphasis on trade has become too dominant.
The outstanding political powers in the region are of course Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Saudi has the biggest economy, is a member of the G20 and, frankly, dominates the international oil market. Egypt is by far and away the most populous nation, with 1.4 million men under arms, and is the guarantor of regional safety. It is splendid to visit the UAE and Qatar, which I am always happy to do. It is important for British jobs and it is important for British trade. However, foreign policy is not a one-way street. Our Secretaries of State need to engage far more vigorously in political dialogue, particularly with Saudi and Egypt-not through loudhailers, as the Minister said, but through relationship building; not on the telephone or through envoys, but in person and in country. It is noticed and remarked upon that Britain seems to care more about the depth of the pockets in the region than about those countries' policies. I am sure that that impression is wrong, but it needs to be corrected-and soon.
As we all know, today is another possible turning point for Egypt, and I finish where the Minister began. It may well be that the unrest has gone well beyond the point where people will be satisfied with anything less than real change throughout their Government and their constitution. However, that is their decision. We all want peaceful transition. I agree with virtually everything the Minister said on this subject. As I speak, it is possible that Friday prayers are finishing in Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. For us, democracy, the rule of law and human rights are the best foundation. We all hope that the people of Egypt will find their best foundation and that they will find it very soon.
I say simply that this is not a time-limited debate. If speakers take an average of 12 minutes, we should finish by around 2 pm. Noble Lords will recall that the Companion suggests that to avoid tiring the House the maximum time for speeches should normally be 15 minutes.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on having the foresight to schedule this debate for today. Despite my noble friend Lord Wallace's exhortations, I commend the Minister for making it non time-limited. There are 22 countries in the region, which are all going through tremendous change. We seldom debate them in this manner without time limits, and it is important to give those countries the due weight they deserve.
Much has been said in the past few days about the historic events that we are witnessing. On these Benches, like in other parts of the House, there is deep frustration that the will of the Egyptian people remains thwarted by the intransigence of a dictator who cannot see that his days are over. While there is still considerable uncertainty about how events will unfold in the wider region, it is true that the region will not be the same again. We must hope that the transition to democracy, which will surely come to Egypt at some point, does so in non-violent and peaceful circumstances. We can also predict that a difficult period lies ahead. Alexis de Tocqueville said:
"Despots themselves do not deny that freedom is excellent; only they desire it for themselves alone, and they maintain that everyone else is altogether unworthy of it".
That is the flavour of the struggle ahead.
There has been a sense in political circles that these events have come upon us unexpectedly and that somehow the expression of frustration on "Arab street" is a new phenomenon. It is not. I arrived in Saudi Arabia in early 1973, before the Egyptian-Israeli war and subsequent oil embargo. I then lived in Lebanon and Egypt, and have travelled to almost all the countries of the region. While oppression and autocracy had been the unifying factor across the different countries of the region, the man on the street always had a healthy disregard for his rulers. However, the "curse of oil", combined with social and communal binds, and social conformity, have always made meaningful change difficult.
Successive Arab Human Development Reports-I pay tribute to my noble friend's predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, who during his time at the UNDP instituted those extraordinarily well researched, Arab-driven reports-have shown that despite grave obstacles the region has changed and its people are embracing modernity with zeal. Education has broadened horizons, the internet has liberated the people and sheer demographics have given them sufficient numbers to have found a voice. Arab exceptionalism-the notion that people everywhere, bar the Arabs, can embrace political empowerment-looks as though it has come to an end.
However, there has always been more to Arab compliance with misrule than simple submission. This is a region that has been the plaything of empires for centuries. We in Britain have too often been on the wrong side of history. From the naivety of Arthur Balfour in 1917 to the ill-fated Anglo-Iraqi treaty of the 1920s, and from our attempts to leverage power in Egypt between the King and the Wafd-which sowed the seeds for the 1952 revolution-to our subsequent handling of the Suez crisis, such events have left an unhappy legacy.
However, the major power in the Middle East in contemporary history has of course been the US. It has for far too long been swayed by the supposed belief in the illusion of stability over freedom, democracy and justice. There has been more than a sense of irony in the past few weeks about the knee-jerk reaction by Israel and Saudi-Arabia-both client states of the US: one a democracy and the other an autocracy-stressing that stability and mutual defence of a dictator is more important than democracy. When one sets about supporting "moderate" Arab leaders, as the US, Israel and to a lesser degree Europe have done, we fail to see a contradiction. What sort of world do we live in where cruel rights-abusing dictatorships are deemed to be moderate? I suspect that Khalid Said's mother, whose son was brutally murdered last year for exposing corruption in Egypt, would not see much moderation in the Egyptian security service's treatment when she saw the body of her son in the morgue.
Turning to the present day, two major factors that continue to make this region the most unstable in the world are linked. The first, now almost a hundred years since the Balfour declaration, is the lack of resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict. From this flows such a strong sense of injustice across the entire Muslim world that it undermines the West's relations with some 1.3 billion people on this planet. While Britain and the EU have only walk-on parts in this sorry tale, our inability to impress on our partner, the US, that it should embark on an even-handed, just and equitable solution marks an ongoing and significant failure of British and EU foreign policy.
I travelled to Israel and Palestine a few days ago with a parliamentary delegation organised by the Council for Arab-British Understanding. We saw the ongoing encroachment of Israeli settlers in West Bank areas B and C, and the families displaced by settlers in Hebron and in East Jerusalem; and we encountered the loss of hope of a generation of young Palestinians. Within a few days of our return, we learnt from the Al-Jazeera leaks of the extent to which Palestinian negotiators had handed over to the Israelis all their prized possessions and rights: the right of return, an entrenchment of illegal settlements and an agreement to maps that were so non-contiguous that the notion of a viable state was no more real than in the Bantu states of apartheid South Africa. Yet none of this was enough, in the eyes of the Israeli negotiators, to sue for peace.
What are the prospects for a peaceful transition to democracy in the Middle East? There will have to be a solution to the Israeli-Palestine conflict. This will inevitably involve talking to Hamas; peace without that will be impossible. If we recoil in horror at the prospect, let us be clear that Hamas is not Islamist in conventional terms. It does not wish to see a theocratic state on a literalist interpretation of medieval Islam. It comprises doctors and engineers as well as mullahs. It is a pluralist party; 25 per cent of its ruling council comprise professionals educated in the West, with western notions of governance and administration. It is not a proxy for al-Qaeda; it fights al-Qaeda on the ground in Gaza. We should also recall that we do not need to make peace with friends; it is our enemies with whom we have to sit down at the table. We have held our noses and done so with former terrorists in Northern Ireland, and we have seen the fruits of bringing dissenters into the fold.
I turn to the concern that if we support democracies in the Middle East we will end up with wild, sabre-rattling theocratic states. First, it is a profound misunderstanding of the region to equate the Muslim Brotherhood with pure Salafism, or Hezbollah with the Iranian theocracy. The brotherhood is not ibn Abd al-Wahhab and Lebanon is not Iran. However, there is little doubt that democracy in the Middle East will result in the winning of votes by religious parties. This may well mean that some countries will be less friendly to the West. That may be a short-term setback, but there will be longer-term dividends from having been true to our values. The long-standing perception of double standards will no longer apply and we will be able to pursue our self-interest in the region on the basis of mutual respect as well as mutual interest.
In conclusion, we cannot know where this quest for freedom will take the people of Egypt. Our hopes and prayers must be that they will obtain their freedom without further bloodshed. President Obama said last night:
"The Egyptian people have made it clear that there is no going back to the way things were: Egypt has changed, and its future is in the hands of the people. Those who have exercised their right to peaceful assembly represent the greatness of the Egyptian people".
It is our duty to support those who seek a peaceful transition to good constitutional governance across the region. That should be the thrust of our foreign policy.
My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Baroness. She and a number of other noble Lords follow events in the Middle East very closely. I thank the Minister for the steady and wise advice that he gave to the House, based on his long experience. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who also has a wealth of experience and with whom I have worked in a number of seminars on the Middle East, for her measured speech.
I am very glad that the Foreign Secretary has taken the initiative and gone to the Middle East. It gives me an opportunity to reinforce the point that we need diplomats of high quality there. I am sure that we have some. We need diplomats, not businessmen, who will report back accurately, who are in touch with the communities in those countries and who will serve our country in that way.
I confess that I first went to the Middle East in 1947, when I was 11. I went via Cairo, when King Farouk was on the throne, to Khartoum. It is extraordinary to think that, in the 63 years that have passed, there have been only three leaders in Egypt: Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak. That also shows the importance and the strength of the army, with which it is vital that we keep in touch.
Egypt had some experience of trying democracy in the years before the Second World War, but most people in Egypt today have not had the privilege of that experience. It is worth reminding ourselves of the famous conversation between Nehru and Nasser. Nasser boasted to Nehru: "I put my extremists in prison. What do you do with yours?". Nehru replied: "Actually, I put mine in Parliament". Perhaps there are lessons to be learnt from that.
The events of the past few days have shown a positive signal of the growing desire of so many people of whatever background in the Middle East-poor, middle-class or professional-for better-managed economies, less corruption, more freedoms and systems of accountability. Modern technology has acted as a catalyst to help release these volcanic tensions. Incidentally, I hope that this technology will play an important role in the coming months and years in helping the people of the Middle East choose a way forward.
We know from the events of the past few days in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan and elsewhere that in the struggle to find a more acceptable form of government will be a hard and rocky path. I think it was Aristotle who said that it is a part of probability that many improbable things will happen. Unfortunately, so many countries in the Middle East do not have leaders of the quality of Mandela to help them get through the difficulties in the years ahead. I hope that some will emerge.
What should our approach be? I will share one or two reflections. First, we need to recognise our respective histories. Yes, we have recently had our own empire. I am the son of a colonial governor and was the last British administrator in east Africa. When I met President Mubarak for the first time in Ismailia, he said: "Ah, here is the last British imperialist". I also know that our empire is well and truly over, and we must look to a different and more modest future. In a way, I thank God that we do not have to tell the rest of the world what to do; we seem to have enough problems here. However, we remain an active partner in the Middle East; we have to be so.
We must recognise that other countries in the Middle East have had great empires; I refer to the Persian empires, the Turkish Ottoman Empire, Egypt and Mesopotamia. It follows that we have to be very careful, as noble Lords have already said, not to insist that other countries adopt our form of democracy. It was a considerable surprise to me to discover that Robert Peel, in a debate in the House in 1850, said that,
"you will not advance the cause of Constitutional Government by attempting to dictate to other nations".
I do not think that he can have forecast what happened in the years after that, but how right he was. President Obama was also right to say at the UN in September 2009:
"Democracy cannot be imposed on any nation from the outside".
Therefore, we have to encourage evolution, not revolution. We have to encourage systems of accountability that are rooted in those countries' traditions, history and culture. As the noble Baroness has just said, we have to watch with interest the debate about democracy versus theocracy, drawing lessons from the fact that in Indonesia and the Philippines Muslims participate in fairly straightforward democratic systems. Then, we observe the experience of Iran. I am reminded of the words of the late Lord Hailsham here; if you try to create heaven on earth, you will end up creating hell on earth.
In contrast to Iran, we have the lessons of Turkey and the inspiration of Ataturk in the 1920s. That has led to a country that today is secular but Islamic. It is, I think, an example to the rest of the Middle East, and I hope that it will adopt a very strong role in the affairs of that region in the years ahead.
Like other noble Lords, I believe it is right to say that there is no one solution for each of these countries-they are all different. Some are republics or autocracies; others are monarchies of different kinds. Even in the Gulf, in places such as Kuwait and Bahrain where there are two Chambers, there is the evolution of some kind of constitutional monarchy. Some are not learning the lessons of Lampedusa-that, in order to remain strong, you must adjust. Therefore, real stability, which is a British interest, will come only if the aspirations of the people of the Middle East are satisfied through peaceful evolution. As the Minister said, we have to work unilaterally, like an instrument in an orchestra, with the European Union, the United States, other organisations and our friends in the Middle East. We have to engage in dialogue, where we are asked to do so, with leaders, armies, civic society and emerging political parties, including Islamic political parties. Let us learn the lessons of Algeria, where an Islamic party was elected, Parliament was then abolished and there were 10 years of bloodshed and civil war.
I want to say a word about the overall strategic position and refer, first, to the Israeli/Palestinian issue, which remains a top priority. The failure to reach any agreement is a kind of cancer that poisons so much else, as well as poisoning the prospects of stability in the Middle East. It goes on deteriorating and is a powder keg. There is a kind of ineluctable slide downhill. We all know that the best solution for both the Israelis and the Palestinians is a two-state solution. However, the Palestinians are hopelessly divided, with pretty weak Arab support from the remainder of the Middle East. The Israeli Government of today, although not necessarily previous Israeli Governments, show no interest whatever in moving forward. In contrast, it is developing settlements, totally against international convention and law. The United States is not consistent in its vigour in pursuing peace in that area. The longer this lifetime dispute drags on, the more the prospects of stability will suffer. Abba Eban of Israel was right when he said that you make peace by talking to your enemies. Ahtisaari, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, was also right when he said:
"Peace is a question of will. All conflicts can be settled, and there are no excuses for allowing them to become eternal".
I also want to say a word about the Gulf. Here, I should mention that it was my father who negotiated our withdrawal from the Gulf on behalf of HMG in 1971. I welcome the present Government's approach to the Gulf. The countries in that area are our longstanding friends and they value personal friendship. It is exceedingly important that Ministers make regular visits to the area and get to know all the leaders. However, it is also important that we engage with the Gulf leaders through the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf on the big issues that affect them and us. One is Iran, that great nation of 70 million people, which we have not yet discussed very much today. We know from the evidence that many there are aspiring to a freer way of life. How do we work towards regional security? We have to talk to the Gulf leaders on that.
We also have to talk to the Gulf leaders about Yemen and the Horn of Africa. I express the hope that the Government are looking on Yemen and the Horn as a region of profound instability and that they see a need for a cohesive approach towards Yemen, the Gulf of Aden, with its piracy, and Somalia. We have important trade through the Gulf of Aden. We see piracy increasing -they have more than 700 hostages-with ransoms higher than ever. In Yemen, we see a weak Government with competing elites; we see tribes and regions increasingly autonomous; and we see three secessionist movements. We also see a deteriorating economy, with oil running out and shortages of water. We are all familiar with the scene in Somalia-an ever-weakening transitional Government and Puntland as the base for piracy. In my remaining remarks, I wish to mention the key points that I think we should follow there.
There must be a balance between our approach to helping the security of that region and our approach to helping the development of that region. If the West and the Arab neighbours simply support strengthening security, that will only help to radicalise the population and alienate some of the vast diaspora who live in this country and other parts of Europe and America. On Yemen, we need to persuade the GCC, Saudi Arabia and the group of 20 Friends of Yemen to work towards helping to develop the Yemeni economy. On Somalia, there is one ray of hope, which is that there were elections in Somaliland last June and the elected President wants to develop a free democratic part of Somalia. That country must be given every encouragement-and I am very glad that the Secretary of State for DfID has been there in the past couple of weeks-in developing its health and education, in training in public service and in facilitating the provision of skills by the diaspora from this country to Somaliland. All that will help to consolidate strength in that country.
I end by referring briefly to Sudan, where my father was the last to pull the flag down in 1956. If he were alive today, he would feel extremely sad. However, we should welcome the positive efforts of both the northern and southern Governments to get a peaceful resolution to the long-standing tragedy of the divide between north and south. I hope that we will keep our hand in in working with the African Union and the region to help to solve the other problems of Abyei and the borders, and citizenship rights and so on, and perhaps in the long term offer them the prospect that, if they satisfy certain conditions, they will be able to enter the Commonwealth.
We must remain an active partner in the Middle East but a modest one, not an imperial power.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, who I think will now be known as the last British imperialist, as he revealed to us. He also, rightly, drew our attention to the existence of other empires in the region. Indeed, one of the underlying factors in the Middle East-it is low-level but significant -is the competition between three of the successor states of former empires around Turkey and Egypt as to who is to be hegemonic within the region. I do not wish to develop that theme, but just mention it.
I find myself in agreement with the comments of my noble friend Lord Howell and the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, on Egypt. As they said, events are unfolding and we should be cautious in our approach to them. There is a tendency in things like this to think of the worst possible contingencies, but we should caution ourselves against assuming that they necessarily will occur. I know that there has been significant loss of life in Egypt over the recent period but we should draw some comfort from the way in which the demonstrators and the army have conducted themselves, which shows that a degree of restraint is being exercised. One hopes that that will continue to be the case because one must always bear in mind that it can be guaranteed that a resort to violence will make things worse. We hope that that will not occur.
There are other reasons for thinking that the measured responses that we have seen will be a factor in the future. I remember being told some time ago that, at the election before last in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood deliberately did not put up enough candidates to win. It succeeded, but it made sure that there was no chance of wining the election because it was all too conscious of the example of Algeria, where the victory of an Islamist party resulted in a military coup. It did not want that in Egypt, and I hope it still does not want that. It is clear from the virtually public debate within the Muslim Brotherhood that elements within it do not want a theocratic state. Therefore, we can see a desire with that party to avoid the two bad examples in the recent past in the "revolutions" in Iran and Algeria.
Rather than develop those general thoughts, I shall focus on one recent development relating to a point that all the preceding speeches have touched on; namely, the talks and relationships between Israel and Palestine. Here I draw attention to my interests which are set out in the Register of Lords' Interests. I have no intention of discussing those matters at this point, so people can relax. My starting point may seem slightly frivolous, but it is not. It is the Palestinian papers revealed by Al-Jazeera and the Guardian a week or two ago with tremendous publicity. They have already been mentioned. I have to focus on the Guardian because I have not seen Al-Jazeera and I do not know exactly how it presented them, but I know how they were presented by the Guardian. It was a matter of shock and horror that the Palestinian Authority betrayed its people in the discussions between the Israelis and the Palestinians in which it was assumed that major settlement blocks in the vicinity of Jerusalem would be part of the future Israeli state. The reaction of the Guardian was to say that it was a disgrace.
My reaction was, "What?". Everybody knows that that is the position. Anyone who has followed this matter closely over the years will know that although the Camp David talks did not reach agreement, considerable progress was made and the basic principle they operated on with regard to determining the boundary between Israel and Palestine was that areas occupied by Jews would be part of Israel and areas occupied by Arabs would be part of the Palestinian state. That was a general principle that could obviously not be applied to every small, isolated settlement and worked well only for areas that were contiguous to the green line. Even on that, there would be matters of interpretation, but there was still agreement on the general principle. At the end of those talks, it was possible for President Clinton to make an offer. It has not been published. Indeed, according to Dennis Ross, it was never actually written down, but President Clinton made an offer that was effectively a line. Since then, I do not think the discussions have moved significantly from that point. That is why I was surprised that the Guardian was surprised because even if it had not looked at Camp David, and if it had looked at the map that Ehud Olmert published after the talks he was engaged in regarding the Palestinians, it would have seen the same factor. It should not have been a surprise. The principle that would apply to the modern suburbs of Jerusalem just the other side of the green line applies equally well to East Jerusalem, which would be part of the Palestinian state. Indeed, the Palestinians quite understandably wish to see their capital in that area.
Jewish commentators also reacted negatively to the Palestinian papers, particularly on the issue of dividing Jerusalem. They said that the Camp David talks had not been settled and that there were other problems that should be addressed. One person pointed particularly to security and the need for Israel to retain positions along the River Jordan to assure them of security. Again my reaction was, "What's he worried about? Does he seriously think that the Jordanian army is going to invade across the Jordan again?". It is again a mistake to give too much attention to security without realising that the best security for Israel will come from a friendly and strong Palestinian state. I remember having a conversation a number of years ago with a very senior person in Israel who said that people complain that the Palestinian Authority is not effective in security in the areas under its control, but it cannot be effective because it needs to have an army and it has not got one. I hope the Israelis bear that in mind in these discussions. They need to see an effective Palestinian Government because they will not have security without one.
I do not wish to belabour these points, but I come back to my earlier point about the outrage over the leaks. I wonder why there was this outrage. It should not have been there if people were properly informed. Were they informed? I do not know. I think the outrage had a purpose, and I suspect it was to undermine the concept of a two-state solution. There are those who seem to think that the solution is a one-state solution and that, if there is one state between the Mediterranean and the Jordan, it will then be impossible for the Israeli Government to deny full civic rights to the Arabs, which would create a state that would not be Jewish and might even eventually have an Arab majority. That might be the objective. If that is the line behind the outrage, it is a delusion to think that that will happen. I do not think the talks on the two-state solution have failed and would not write them off. Although they may take a long time, and have already taken a long time, one should not despair of them. If they did fail, one of the options for the Israelis would be a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank and Judea. The problem with that is that they would probably withdraw back to the barrier and leave Arab areas of East Jerusalem and other areas on the wrong side of the barrier, if only to have some negotiating cards for the future. That is not something we should want. Indeed, I note that some may see a convergence of that option with the thought of some in the Palestinian Authority that it might be to their advantage unilaterally to declare an independent state. These unilateral actions by either side would not be helpful. It is much better to persevere at the talks. They have been going on for a long time. I do not intend to refer to our experience in Northern Ireland, other than to say, as I have said before on another occasion, I remember a friend saying to me in 1973 that it was perfectly obvious what the outcome was going to be. He sketched it quite accurately, and it only took us a further 25 years to get there, but I do not normally like going back to issues from that.
My basic point is that one should persevere with the two-state solution. It is the only one. One could draw some encouragement from the late Palestinian papers because it shows that on the practical issues-namely, drawing lines and all the rest of it-there is not that much difference. The real difference is that there is not yet willingness on both sides to sign off and to make an agreement. It was the same problem at the end of Camp David. There was a deal, which was, in the view of those who put it forward, a good deal. But Arafat turned it down even when, we were led to believe, a majority of his negotiators wanted him to agree to it. He was not prepared to take that step. Far too many people are not prepared to take that step.
Perhaps the noble Baroness opposite and noble Lords will forgive me for the observation that, yes, the concept of the coalition Government in Israel and the way in which they operate is a problem. If anyone should be ready or even prepared to make an agreement, it makes it very difficult for them to do that. That structural problem in the Israeli Government goes back to something which many people in this House advocate; namely, proportional representation. That is a serious point, which I hope will be taken on board by those who advocate PR. It has a downside and if you go to Israel you can see it, perhaps in a slightly extreme form.
We hope that we will see positive developments in Egypt and that there will be a spur to positive developments elsewhere, by which I mean movement towards a more democratic and a freer state. I am very glad to hear all the things that the noble Baroness said about Tunisia and what it is doing, because democracy is more than just an election. There are a whole host of things. From a point of view of the well-being of the people of the Middle East, the bedrock or starting point should be the rule of law. Without it or without it fully understood all the rest will not work properly.
I fully support the argument mounted by the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, in favour of a two-state solution. That is the only route which could be followed at present. Like him, I have doubts about the present coalition in Israel, but that is another issue.
No one can doubt the severity of the current situation in the Middle East. It is blindingly obvious. In nearly all Arab countries there is turmoil and an understandable search for change. It was spearheaded in Tunisia and has now spread inexorably. What is now to ensue? The peril is that the present dictatorship will be followed by even worse regimes. All, even in Iran, can pay lip service to elections. But let us remember that in 1932 Adolf Hitler emerged victorious from so-called free elections.
The dilemma affecting the West is daunting. To challenge the desire for radical change would be mistaken in the extreme. To come to terms with change could in certain circumstances result in damaging consequences. The stance taken by Washington is somewhat understandably ambivalent. Today, we learn that President Mubarak has made some further concessions, which are not very convincing against this tumultuous background. What will emerge is the million-dollar question.
The choice facing Israel in particular is potentially catastrophic. Extremists bay for its demise. However we may view Netanyahu and his coalition Government, by current Middle Eastern standards, his administration could be deemed to be moderate. That is not my opinion, but that is how it could be viewed. At least the Netanyahu coalition is subject to scrutiny from within the country.
Hamas and Hezbollah, in contrast to the former and courageous President of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, seek the destruction of Israel, something about which I would remind the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner. She hardly mentioned that fact, but preferred to remain an apologist for Hezbollah and Hamas.
I fear that the noble Lord was not listening carefully to my remarks. I am absolutely no apologist for anyone who seeks the destruction of Israel. It is for Israel's survival that I urge that it sits down and talks to its opponents. As I made very clear in my comments on Northern Ireland, we have to do so with people who we do not like on the whole.
The noble Baroness refuses to acknowledge that neither will recognise Israel in any form or shape, which in my view is an absolute prerequisite to any substantial peace talks.
Sadat sought to achieve long-term peace in contrast to what Hamas and Hezbollah are trying to do. If things go awry, Israel will be surrounded by hostile forces that far outnumber its own defence force. The fact that Israel and Egypt have upheld, through years of enmity and upheaval in the region, a peace agreement is a testament to the fact that Arabs and Jews can co-operate. If the example of Prime Minister Begin and President Sadat were to be emulated, not only peace but prosperity could enhance the fortunes of both peoples and there is no doubt that the poorer Arab sectors of society would benefit most.
Certainly, we must give the movement for Arab democracy a chance. Perhaps that is best achieved by non-interference on the part of the West. This uprising demonstrates that the majority of Egyptians are becoming active and vocal in that cause. But, of course, we cannot underestimate the dangers inherent in the current situation.
One focus for helping to promote stability in the region is the peace process-albeit that it is all too sluggish-between Israel and Palestine at present. To achieve peace, Israel must always demonstrate a strong commitment to justice through its independent judiciary, which is the only one in the Middle East. It has not hesitated to bring its former President to face a situation in the courts and a cover-up cannot be entertained. A peaceful solution is certainly worth the abandonment of the policy of expanding settlements and, to be fair to Israel, it has in the past uprooted some altogether.
At the risk of creating enmity within, let us not forget that in 2005, Israel withdrew 8,000 of its citizens from Gaza and the West Bank. But now, at this perilous time, both sides must strive ever increasingly. While the settlements may have served a defensive purpose at the outset, in many instances they have been hijacked by those with messianic fervour born out of centuries of feeling outcasts.
Iranian influence in a malign way cannot be overstated. The clamour for Islamic jihad from inside that country, the suppression of opponents and the obscene attacks on its foes play a huge part in subverting peace. It encourages the training of suicide bombers who wreak havoc on innocent civilians without conscience or concern. Meanwhile, Iran supports Hamas in maintaining rocket attacks on Israeli citizens designed to kill, even if they do not always succeed.
Of course, Israel, like all democracies, makes mistakes. Some have grave consequences. But Israel cannot make territorial concessions that can be interpreted as a sign of weakness. To achieve enduring peace, stability is essential and, as ever, risks have to be taken for this to happen. Peace is of course elusive, but it has to be pursued even more vigorously than it is at the present time. The alternatives of extremism and terror will prevail. It follows, therefore, that particularly during this vastly troubled time, the voices of hate should not drown out those of desperation, yearning above all for a peaceful settlement.
Having said that, I also join with the noble Lord, Lord Luce, in hoping that trade will replace much of the toxicity which threatens to engulf so many.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford for securing this debate and ensuring that we have a good period of time in which to explore a complex but very critical area of foreign policy for our country. Yesterday, noble Lords will recall, we addressed the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. NATO came into being because of a threat to our country and those of our allies from the Soviet Union. It was remarkably successful, and one might actually say that NATO, along with developments in the European Union, won out in the end. A generation or so ago, the Soviet Union began to dissolve and the whole situation began to change. Like other liberally minded people, I can well recall the tremendous excitement and rejoicing there was at the success of NATO and the European Union in the dissolution and collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of democracy in eastern Europe. But those of us from a psychological background have a rather morose view of humanity of times, and I remember writing that I was concerned that our need always to maintain an enemy might well provoke us to find confrontation, and that the most likely groups with which we would find that confrontation were the largely Muslim states in the southern part of Russia and into the Middle East.
Some look at the developments taking place and are considering the domino effect, or tipping point, which may or may not be reached in the whole region across North Africa and the wider Middle East. They see an analogy with what happened in the 1980s in eastern Europe. Indeed, there may be some common features, but there are one or two important differences from our country's point of view. At the time when central and eastern Europe began to change, there was no doubt whatever in the minds of the people of those countries that the West in general, this country and the United States in particular, was firmly opposed to the authoritarian regimes and therefore strongly backed the vast majority of people who were looking for freedom. That is not the case in the Middle East where many people, even those who are not antipathetic to the United Kingdom or the United States on principle, not unreasonably view us as those who have supported many authoritarian regimes, and indeed have been their allies. I cite as an example the case of Egypt, which is so much on our minds at the moment. We have poured colossal amounts of money and military aid into the maintenance of what is clearly an authoritarian regime. That is a very important difference.
We cannot quickly and deftly turn and support another approach politically and hope that we will be immediately believed. I remember well during the run-up to the elections in Gaza and the West Bank trying to encourage Mr Gerry Adams and Mr Martin McGuinness to go to meet people in Hamas to try to persuade them that the best future was down the road of democratic politics and peace. Mr Adams and Mr McGuinness were not prepared to do that because their historic relationship had been with Fatah, and so they did not go. But after the elections, which Hamas won, they realised that the situation had changed and Mr Adams sought to go out to Gaza to meet with the Hamas leaders. He found that they were not interested in meeting with him because he had supported those whom they regarded as the opposition. So it is not possible for us deftly to set history to one side. We have supported authoritarian regimes which have been, and in some cases still are, our strong allies. We have to recognise that and be a little humble because we have not, perhaps, handled things as wisely as we might have done.
In addition, we have had the military adventures in the wider Middle East over the past number of years. While we may have largely withdrawn from Iraq from a military point of view, the memory of it remains. Noble Lords will know that I and my colleagues were not just wary but very critical of that military intervention; we thought it ill advised. I do not want to return to that, but I will say that it has always been my view that it is not enough just to criticise something that you do not agree with, you have to provide some kind of alternative. At the time, I was the president of Liberal International, a global organisation of over 100 liberal political parties. I challenged my colleagues and said that it was not enough to say that we did not agree with the Iraq military engagement. We did not support Saddam Hussein, although of course the West did support him when he was at war with Iran, and we did not accept the view of those who were saying that military intervention was the only alternative. We said that we would have to engage.
Supported by Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung fur die Freiheit, the German Liberal Foundation, I began an initiative to create a network of Arab liberal political parties. We had networks in Europe, of course, but also in Asia, Africa and Latin America, but we did not have such a network of Arab political activists and parties. So, in July 2006 in Cairo, we offered people like Ayman Nour, Mr Hariri's party from Lebanon, three of the political parties in Morocco, social and liberal democrats from Tunisia, and others from Lebanon and Jordan the possibility of meeting together. All these people did then meet and go on to form the Network of Arab Liberals, a group committed to democracy. These people were clearly educated and thoughtful intellectuals, and in some cases with political parties behind them. Many were avowedly middle-class people.
The poor in countries like Egypt are not very politically involved because they have to strive too hard just to survive from day to day in that country. So although I agree absolutely with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons of Vernham Dean, that there are enormous social problems in the form of unemployment, poverty to the point of virtual starvation, very poor healthcare and so on, it is not the people who are suffering most in those ways who are appearing at the demonstrations. The young executive with Google who started the Facebook page celebrating Khaled Said, the young man who was killed last year in Alexandria, and who was himself recently imprisoned and then released, is of course a very well educated and technically capable young man. Indeed, the vast majority of the people congregating in Tahrir Square are people of that kind. What they are demanding is freedom and democracy while also being concerned about all the other social and economic questions.
But here we come to the problem. If we go down the road of democracy in our country or any other country, we have to accept the results from the ballot box. We have not always been prepared to accept the results of elections in the Middle East even when they were clearly free and fair, as was the case in Gaza and the West Bank. Not only did we not accept those elections or engage in a Government of national unity, despite the fact that the previous Government had indicated at the most senior levels that they would be prepared to do that, we accepted those results being set aside and covert military operations being put in place by others to undermine them.
Democracy is very problematic, but it is even more problematic to allow authoritarian regimes to continue to resist democratic pressure from moderate and liberally minded people, because the longer that that is resisted, the more it builds up the strength of those more maligned forces who say, "You're wasting your time on democracy. The West will never accept it anyway. These authoritarian regimes will not accept it. The only thing they understand is violence". It strengthens the hands of those who are not democrats and who want to burn rather than change the system.
On Egypt, for example, we have heard the West say, "Well, you know, my goodness, if we have democracy tomorrow, the alternatives may be Mubarak on the one side and the Muslim Brotherhood on the other". This is nonsense. The Muslim Brotherhood is not a strong organisation. It has some 100,000 adherents in a population of 80 million. People say, "Ah, but look at all the things that they do, like Hezbollah, in terms of welfare and so on. They're winning hearts and minds". That is true of Hezbollah in Lebanon, with which we find ourselves having to engage because it is part of the Government and will be part of any future Government-I am very glad that the UK Government have changed their position on that and have in the past year or two been prepared to engage, albeit rather tepidly, with Hezbollah. However, the Muslin Brotherhood does not have anything of the kind. It has some six or eight clinics in Cairo, in a population of 18 million. It is lukewarm in its organisation. Indeed, Ayman al- Zawahiri's, the former head of Islamic Jihad and a leading strategist in al-Qaeda, has criticised it precisely for that; he regards it as a co-operator with the Crusaders, ignoring the importance of Sharia. We should be very careful that we do not create our own bogeymen, fight against them and then find that we have something much worse in their place.
I said a long time ago that we would end up talking with Hezbollah because it would be part of the Government, and we have. I say again that, however unappealing it may be, we will end up talking with Hamas, as will the Israeli Government. To those who say that the quartet position must be maintained, I say that the Russians have been talking with Hamas all through the period when the quartet position was in place. I do not expect my noble friend the Minister to indicate in today's debate a dramatic change of position by Her Majesty's Government, but I think that we have got to be much more realistic in our approach. If we press for democracy, and the people express their view in a free and fair election, we must engage. I understand all the concerns about chaos ensuing if Mr Mubarak were to step down immediately. I understand wholly, too, what my noble friend Lord Trimble said about how long we took to get round to things in Northern Ireland, but we had there the containing factor of the British Government prepared to pay endlessly, it seemed, to maintain stability. We had also the relationship with the Irish Government and the European context. We had the luxury of being contained in that while we struggled to find a way forward. That is not the case in Egypt and in other countries in the Middle East. There is therefore a degree of urgency. It is hugely important for us to engage-not just demand that others engage, but engage ourselves in our own national interest.
I have discovered in conversations with a number of the Governments in the Middle East that, while they find it hugely difficult to engage on some of the hard political questions, they are prepared to do so on some of the important social and economic questions. I must pay tribute to the Swiss, Swedish and Norwegian Governments, who assisted me and number of my colleagues in trying to help countries in the region look at water, energy and the environment-the report which comes from that work will be launched in the Lords in a few weeks. After the Second World War, we in Europe found that we could turn coal and steel, which had been used to create the instruments of war, into subjects for co-operation. Much good has come from that and at our peril do we dismiss it.
Water and energy could become the focus of violence and war in the Middle East, but they can be turned into subjects for international co-operation. A number of countries in the region, such as Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Jordan, are prepared to engage together in a network. We should engage with them and encourage them. I hope that Her Majesty's Government will do that.
I am encouraged by what I perceive to be a new approach to foreign policy on the part of the coalition Government and by the right honourable Foreign Secretary. It is hugely important that we as a country maintain our principles and our concern for our national interest, but that we do not find ourselves on the wrong side of history because of a failure to understand and engage with a changing world.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Howell and the noble Baroness from the opposition Front Bench on what they said. They opened the debate in a quite outstanding way. Since then, we have heard a series of very strong speeches, not least that from the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice.
I shall be brief and make one basic point. There are those who say that the events in Cairo mean that any efforts to bring about a peace settlement in Palestine should be put on ice, that we do not know that kind of Government will evolve in Egypt or what part the Muslim Brotherhood will play, and that the security risks are too great. I take exactly the opposite view. Unless action is taken towards a two-state solution, the danger in the Middle East will increase, to the harm of the whole world.
This time last week, I was on the West Bank, in Ramallah, Hebron and Jerusalem. A few weeks previously, I had been in Gaza, entering via the crossing on the Egyptian side which is now closed. Both trips were organised by the Conservative Middle East Council. It was not remotely my first visit to the Middle East. My introduction was not quite as early as that of the noble Lord, Lord Luce-I cannot claim that it was 1947-but it came in 1967, when I was sent to report the Six-Day War. I was at the time the home affairs correspondent for the Times, so it was slightly surprising to find myself on the road from Beirut to Damascus and Oman-I was probably the only home affairs correspondent covering that war. I certainly saw the Middle East at exactly the time that has shaped events up to now.
When I go back, as I have done periodically over the years, I am tempted to say that nothing has changed and that things have only got worse. However, in at least one vital respect, that is not remotely the case. As I went over to Beirut in 1967 in a small fishing boat that we had chartered in Famagusta, we listened to fairly terrifying military music from the Arab radio stations. There was no doubt about the intent, for example, of the Egyptian forces. There was no question of recognition of Israel; the intent was annihilation. The greatest change in the past 45 years is the peace which has developed between Egypt and Israel and between Israel and Jordan. That has been a massive step forward, but the tragedy is that we have not been able to build on that foundation.
The position of Palestine is absolutely crucial for the stability of the Middle East, yet it remains as intractable as ever. We are still dithering about whether a two-state solution can be achieved and whether a degree of normality can be restored to life on the West Bank and in Gaza.
I will set out in a moment the justified concern of Israel concerning its national security, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, but I will first set out why the position in the Occupied Territories or Gaza cannot continue indefinitely and why action needs to be taken if serious danger, perhaps catastrophic danger, is to be avoided.
Let us consider for a moment how life appears to those people living in the Occupied Territories or Gaza. In the Occupied Territories there are checkpoints and Palestinians are diverted on to side roads. There is settlement building, which still continues in East Jerusalem. There are restrictions that prevent full commercial development. It is nice for everyone to say how important trade and commerce are, but that is quite difficult if you find it impossible at times to export your goods and import the goods necessary to make the things that you make.
In Gaza, the position is much worse. There are litter-lined refugee camps that are a grim mixture of corrugated iron and concrete. There are children being taught, as I saw, in a school formed out of old containers which are cold in winter and hot in summer. There are more than 500 children, with each container taking 30 children, who are taught in double shifts, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. There are destroyed houses, but because of the restrictions on imports of cement and aggregates, they cannot be rebuilt. There are Dickensian scenes where young people pick their way through the rubble to find stone. That is the reality.
That is something of the flavour of life for many Palestinians and the longer that continues, the greater the danger that is building up for the whole region and conceivably for the whole world. But then of course you come up against the argument that is quite reasonably put by many Israelis-and the noble Lord, Lord Clinton Davis, touched on it. They say, "Consider the history of Gaza". They say, "Our forces left and our settlers left and how were we rewarded? We were rewarded with a hail of rockets directed at Israel". I do not deny for a moment that that is a powerful argument and one in which Israel has a perfect right to seek reassurance-a reassurance that I hope it feels is being increasingly provided on the West Bank by the police of the Palestinian Authority.
We see the argument that says that perhaps one day we can think of political advance but not now. But in spite of the security difficulties, we should still try to find a political solution which in the end will be the best guarantee and perhaps the only guarantee of security in the long term. I do not believe that we have the luxury of time. Both on the West Bank and in Gaza there is a predominantly young population; a point made by both Front Benches. In the West Bank, 70 per cent of the population is below the age of 30. Gaza is similar. There are many young people growing up who want careers and jobs. They want opportunity and hope. If that opportunity and hope are not provided for them, I fear that there is a real risk that they in turn will resort to violence.
I remember visiting a school in Gaza. There were girls in smart, neat uniforms and they went through their rehearsed paces for the benefit of visitors. But when you spoke to them individually, some of the make-up peeled away. They were concerned about their futures and what their opportunities would be. Did they have any realistic opportunities? The blame that they attached to their situation was not directed at Hamas: they blamed Israel. That is the kind of position that needs to be reversed.
No one claims for a moment that it is anything but the most difficult task, but if there is a way forward, it is through the resumption of talks and serious negotiation. Perhaps the outside world can help in this although, like a number of other noble Lords, I sometimes think that the intervention of the USA and the West in the affairs of the Middle East, from Suez to Iraq, has not been outstandingly successful. Nevertheless, I believe that we have a part to play and I do not mean simply by trailing behind the United States: that does not necessarily serve the interests of the region.
Like the noble Baroness on the opposition Front Bench, I much regret that in the current critical circumstances, where perhaps we could have some influence, we are cutting back on the BBC World Service. That seems a very foolish thing to do at this point. I would have thought that this was the time to develop that service and try to develop our influence rather than to reduce it.
I also very much support the recent and rather more independent statements of both the Prime Minister on Gaza and the Foreign Secretary when he warned the Prime Minister of Israel that "belligerent language" was the last thing that we conceivably needed in this position. I particularly support the words of the Foreign Secretary quoted by my noble friend. We need decisive leadership in this area because, unless we have that, we face the prospect of decades of conflict. That is a powerful warning and everyone should take note.
My Lords, it is good to follow the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, because not for the first time in recent weeks and months I find myself in so much agreement with what he has been saying. In congratulating him, I also warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford. He and I have known each other for more than 45 years in politics, across the divide. What has frequently been heartening to me is the degree to which we find ourselves agreeing in analysis of foreign policy matters. If we must have this Conservative-led coalition, I for one am very glad that his wisdom is at the disposal of the Government and I hope that they always listen. But he must take very seriously the challenge in the concluding passages of a particularly effective-characteristically effective but particularly effective-speech by my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean. If he is to win the ends he really must ensure the resources. Some of the things that the Government have been doing of late, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has underlined with regard to the BBC World Service, are quite extraordinary. These are the very times when these kind of activities become more important than ever.
In a lifetime of international work, some of it in the most turbulent and insecure parts of the world, I have perhaps injudiciously reached some pretty firm conclusions about human affairs. I declare an interest as a continuing trustee of Saferworld. One of my conclusions-I have no doubts about this-is that the origins of extremism and terrorism lie in the sphere of alienation, cynicism, exclusion, disempowerment and poverty. Looked at in a global context, one of the things that sooner or later we all have to recognise is that the world is full of people, many of them very well educated and articulate, who are absolutely fed up with being managed by the traditional powers and being pawns in the traditional powers' play game. They want responsibility and power for themselves as well as a say in their own future and in how the world is organised.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, was right to point out-I almost leapt to my feet and cheered, as I cannot say how strongly I agree-that peace and security cannot be imposed; lasting, enduring security has to be built "brick by brick". That phrase is one that I have often used myself-I hope that he will not mind my saying so-and is one that I totally endorse. What are these bricks? Of course, they are in the realm of hearts and minds. I wish that we would not talk about "winning hearts and minds", as the point is that the solution lies in hearts and minds. That includes security sector reform, the removal of the counterproductivity that is over and over again a real thorn in the flesh of progress, accountable government, justice, and of course human rights. We are still, I am afraid, inclined to see these principles as a sort of optional extra in a decent society rather than as the absolutely central pillars of stability and peace.
What are the processes for moving forward? Well, if I have learnt anything, it is that the processes must be as inclusive as they possibly can be, but the other principle that I have come to endorse completely is that there should be as few preconditions as possible. Preconditions can make progress very difficult indeed. The objectives spelt out in preconditions are things that you build by common ownership in the process of negotiation and talks. Getting this point accepted is crucial. My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis, for whom I have infinite respect, said very indignantly that there has to be an acceptance of the state of Israel. Few of us would disagree with that, but my noble friend and others must also look at the issue from the point of view of the Palestinians. Where is the absolute acceptance of the principle of a state of Palestine? Where is there a real, demonstrable commitment to finding ways not of delaying but of speeding up the creation of that state?
Another issue of which we hear a good deal-this argument has also been used in the case of Egypt-is that, where it is very difficult to see where the new leaders are, one is left with the perhaps unacceptable reality that one simply has to deal with the existing leaders. Of course, if there has been tyranny, oppression and a denial of freedom and debate, it is hardly surprising that new leaders are not always obvious. Leaders will emerge in the context of debate, of freedom and of peacebuilding. We have to be open to the leaders who will create the future rather than always harking back to the leaders who have made such a mess of the past.
Perhaps I could refer for a moment to one or two specific dimensions of what I have been saying. In the case of Egypt, the points that I have been making are fairly obvious. Like others, I cannot put on record too strongly my admiration-my unlimited admiration-for the courage and dignity of the Egyptian people. What a lesson and challenge they have been to the people of the world. In that situation, however, we have been inclined to talk about the role of the army. I just make the point that any future for Egypt that depends on the role of the army is not the kind of peace and stability for which we are looking. The army may have an interim role to play, but we must not become dependent upon it; that is not a democracy or what a well founded society is about.
The other thing to recognise is that there is acute poverty in Egypt. There is a lot of social disempowerment as well as political disempowerment. The suffering has been made worse because of the amount of resources that the outside world has put into supporting the tyranny of the army and the rest, so this is a complicated issue. I think that there has been a certain amount of oversimplification in the journalistic response to the role of the army in the situation.
On Israel, a great deal has already been said in this debate, so let me just underline a couple of points. First, I am delighted to find that, like the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, I was in Israel in the middle of the 1967 war. I can remember sitting in the basement of a hotel-the air raid siren had sounded-and talking to some of my Israeli friends. As we listened to the radio, when some particularly militant Zionist comment came into that situation, my friends became exasperated and said, "It's all right for these people, but we have got to build a future for this country, and that future depends upon our relationships with the people surrounding us. This kind of simplistic propaganda is actually making all that more difficult". If I have a criticism of how we in the outside world have responded to Israel, it is that we have repeatedly let down the voices of moderation and reason within Israel-courageous people who have refused to participate in military activities that they find totally unjustifiable; and where has been our strong support for those people in Israel? My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis referred to Israel as a democracy, but why is it that we always seem to end up on the side of authoritarian Israel instead of on the side of the intellectual-let us not be afraid of the word-and thinking Israeli people who are really looking for the constructive way forward?
Well, let us ponder those words and evaluate them for ourselves.
If we are talking about Israel, we also have to face up to the issue of Hamas, which has been mentioned. What grieves me is that Hamas was a pluralist organisation, but the cards have been played in such a way as to play right into the hands of the extremist elements of Hamas. We create self-fulfilling prophecies. Of course the challenge is to have dialogue with Hamas. I certainly agree with those such as the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, who say that, in the end, there is no alternative but to talk to Hamas-and the sooner, rather than the later, the better. In that context, we have to remember that, while provocation, which is stupid and counterproductive, by those elements within Hamas and other parts of the Middle East in, for example, their actions against innocent people in Israel should be condemned, we must remember that it is not a one-way story.
The siege of the economy in Gaza has been a very cruel and blunt social and economic action, which could not have been designed better than to play into the hands of the extremists. The UN has pointed out that, in the so-called buffer zone within Gaza, last year Israeli shootings killed 52 people, including farmers and young people. Only recently, my old organisation, Oxfam, saw some of its work in the West Bank set back by the demolition that took place at the hands of the Israelis. People have to face the economic and social consequences of that action. Let us not think that the whole provocation comes from the Arabs. There is repeated counterproductive provocation from Israel itself.
The solution as I see it is of course to have a viable state for the Palestinians, but if there is to be such a state it must be one with proper boundaries, not Bantustans. It must be a state that in every sense, geographically and politically, makes sense. It has to be based on the involvement of the widest possible cross-section of people in finding the way forward.
In conclusion, in the region as a whole we have some huge adjustments to make. France, the US and ourselves are seen as being hand in hand with the outdated tyrannical rulers who have called the game for so long. We have to make a strategic transition to being on the side of the people. This will be complicated by the degree to which we have built up our arms relationships with so many of the outdated rulers and have become economically so dependent on the money we have made out of those situations. That has been provocative to the people and will be difficult to remove ourselves from. But these are the strategic issues. Otherwise, we will just be trying to put a finger in the dyke again-and sooner or later the dyke will crash. The lesson of Egypt is startlingly clear.
My Lords, the decision to hold this debate at a time when the events that we are discussing are still unrolling and have far from run their course is a very welcome one-and I express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, for having achieved that. However, the timing does impose some constraints on us. It is one thing to keep up with the curve and another to get ahead of it and slip across the line into interference in a process that needs to remain firmly in the hands of the citizens of those Arab countries that are demanding change. That, I would argue, we should not do, and I welcome very much the clear indication from the Minister that he agrees with that, not just because it would be to repeat past errors and cut across the very democratic principles and practices that we want to see become available to the peoples of these countries but because it would almost certainly be counterproductive and unleash unintended consequences that we could not control. I endorse the careful line that European leaders and President Obama have taken in firmly supporting change and warning against repression, but not straying into detailed prescription.
It is not too soon to begin to discuss how we will respond to these momentous events and adjust our policies in the medium and longer term, once the dust has settled. Adjust them we must if we are not to become irrelevant or even resented in a region that is on Europe's doorstep and where we have many interests at stake. To believe that everything can continue much as it has done up to now would be to make an historic error and to miss a great opportunity.
To begin first with the basics, every one of these countries undergoing radical change will emerge from the immediate crisis in poor economic shape and under huge pressure from their newly enfranchised electorates to deliver growth and prosperity. It will surely be in our interests to help them to do that, which will require substantial financial and economic help from Europe and better trade access to Europe. I hope that we will be in the lead within the European Union in arguing for that. But such help cannot and should not be totally unconditional; it should be offered in the context of a shift to genuinely democratic institutions and real respect for human rights. Europe's track record hitherto on exercising conditionality has not been terribly good; it will need to get better. That cannot be achieved with any one-size-fits-all framework, such as the Union for the Mediterranean; it needs to be shaped to the circumstances of each country by tailoring the neighbourhood policy on a case-by-case basis.
With our own policies, this is surely no moment-and here I join with the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, and many others-to cut back on any aspect of the BBC World Service broadcasting to Arab countries, nor on the British Council's activities in those countries. It is surely rather a time to expand them. I do not want to get into a general debate now about the cuts in the World Service, which I greatly deplore, but I hope that the Minister will say that the Government will urgently review the services provided by the BBC and the British Council to the Arab world. These cuts were introduced before the events that we are debating today, so there should be no shame about a course correction. Since the World Service has identified £26 million-worth of its broadcasting as devoted to developmental objectives, without getting a penny from DfID, it should be possible to find modest additional funds that do not involve a further squeeze on the budget of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Nor is it a time to cut back on access to Britain's higher education system for citizens from these countries, but that is precisely what the Government's review of student visas is heading towards. If ever there was a moment when we should be building up our instruments of soft power rather than systematically dismantling them, this is surely it. I would find it hard to identify any region in the world where soft power is more urgently needed than in the Arab world. So I hope that the Government will think again before reaching any decisions on student visas.
No debate about the Middle East can possibly ignore the issue of Palestine and the Middle East peace process. Many noble Lords have referred to that in terms identical to the ones that I would use. However unpromising the auguries may be, I do not believe that it is in our interest, or in the wider interest of any other country, including Israel, to allow a vacuum to remain. I do not want to get into the argument about responsibility for the present impasse or about the extent to which frustration over this and other events has weakened pro-western regimes in the Middle East, although I believe that it did so pretty seriously over many decades. But I would argue that if we cannot collectively breathe some life back into the process now, we will soon see a marked deterioration in our relations with the Governments of the region, particularly with those of countries undergoing change, and an acceleration of the drift towards radical solutions and even renewed hostilities.
I very much welcome the line taken by the right honourable gentleman the Foreign Secretary on his recent visit that this revival of the peace process is an urgent necessity. What is needed now is not further fruitless wrangling over a settlement precondition, but engagement of a serious negotiating process on the basis of an outlying, comprehensive peace plan, which, after consultation with all parties in the region-and I join those who say "all parties in the region"-could be put on the table by the quartet, with the full support of all its members. It was extremely welcome that the quartet announced last weekend that it will engage in talks in Paris quite soon with the Israeli Government and the Palestinian Authority. That could be a lead-in to a process of that sort.
In all this debate about change in the Arab world, we should not forget about Iran. There, too, millions have marched in protest against a flawed election and a corrupt and repressive regime. For the moment, the forces of repression have the upper hand, but that will not last for ever. There, too, we should tread a fine line between detachment and outright interference, but we should not hide our support for those who demand change peacefully, or temper that support by possibly misguided considerations of realpolitik. The foreign policy challenges that we Europeans face in the Middle East are daunting, but the opportunities are real, too, and I hope that we will make the most of them.
My Lords, the current political unrest in the Middle East, particularly that seen in Tunisia and Egypt, is of momentous significance. Events are almost too fast to follow, with rumour and counter-rumour. However, one thing remains constant: the tide of events that began on
I believe that we should not be fearful of the changes that now seem inevitable in many parts of the Middle East and North Africa. The popular movements in Tunisia and Egypt have been largely peaceful and, for the most part, are not anti-western: they represent people of all ages and backgrounds, striving for universal aspirations that we all share-freedom of expression and political pluralism. There has also been a marked lack of religious rhetoric. Yes, the Muslim Brotherhood has a presence but it is one faction among many and, as my noble friend Lord Alderdice said, it is not as sinister as it is portrayed and will become more moderate only by participating in a multiparty political arena.
Democracy now seems inevitable and, as parliamentarians, we should be heartened by this. The extraordinary power of mass communications-e-mail, Facebook and mobiles-means that societies are more open than ever before and that stifling popular expression is no longer a regime's privilege. Indeed, the scenes in Egypt give rise to a sense of inevitability in the spectator: it is a reminder of the overwhelming power of popular expression. We should applaud the bravery and tenacity of the peaceful protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square. We should support their legitimate aspirations but we must not, as many noble Lords have said, impose our own agenda. Change must come from within. The future of Egypt will be full of challenges and a transition to multiparty democracy with free and fair elections will not be risk-free. Yet a greater risk for Egypt, the Middle East and ourselves would lie in denying Egyptians the right to democracy.
The most basic lesson, perhaps, from the scenes in Cairo and Tunis is that if political opposition is not allowed within a political system, it is eventually seen on the streets. To help me grasp the more nuanced points of developing opposition I turned to my friends at the Centre for Opposition Studies, which exists to promote greater study of political opposition in the UK and elsewhere. Its honorary presidents are my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne, the noble Lord, Lord Kinnock, and the right honourable Charles Kennedy. Its director, Nigel Fletcher, helps me regularly with research and its chairman, one of my closest friends, Dr Mohammed Abdel-Haq, is British-Jordanian of Palestinian extract, so he understands the region very well. I am most grateful to them for their help.
Benjamin Disraeli's famous dictum:
"No government can be long secure without a formidable opposition", is vindicated by current events. Suppressing criticism may give a short-term impression of security, but in the longer term it stores up huge pressure for change, which when it comes can be violent and dangerous. In this sense, democratic opposition provides a vital pressure valve through which political dissent can be expressed. A government who regularly have to meet this challenge-and this Government certainly know it-both in their legislature and at elections cannot afford to ignore opposing views, even where they disagree, and will therefore be at less risk of becoming out of touch with their people.
The close and sustained scrutiny that an opposition provides also helps clarify policy and makes for better governance at all levels. Suppressing dissent and prohibiting an opposition from operating freely has consequences beyond those for the incumbent regime. It also affects the prospects for the stability of an entire country. Where there is no substantial opposition party in Parliament, or none politically active in the democratic process outside it, the voters are denied a credible choice. It also means there is no alternative government available when, as seems very likely in Egypt, political unrest displaces the incumbent regime. This has proved a significant issue in recent developments, with commentators and western Governments alike asking, "Who comes next"? The lack of a clear answer is evidence of the importance of cohesive opposition to regional stability.
Political reform in any country must place a high priority on developing opposition as a political institution. The concept of "Loyal Opposition" is fundamental to a properly functioning democracy: it legitimises dissent at the very heart of the political system but within a framework of shared acceptance of the constitutional settlement. This loyalty is essential to maintaining peace and stability. Many countries in the Middle East are already making significant steps towards democracy and political reform. Jordan, for example, has a Ministry of Political Development which is engaging seriously with many of these issues. It was notable that His Majesty King Abdullah moved quickly to respond to the legitimate concerns of the Jordanian people. It was also notable that, among the unrest in Jordan, the opposition parties pledged their support for the monarchy. His Majesty King Abdullah has engaged in a sweeping programme of political and economic reforms and we should wish him and Prime Minister Marouf Al-Bakhit well and be ready to help them where we can. I believe that aid from DfID that went to Jordan, which really holds the line in a very difficult area, was cut a few years ago. I wonder whether we might have any plans to restore that, particularly after my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary's visit to Jordan.
We are most fortunate in this country to have remarkable ambassadors throughout the region. Many former ambassadors now serve in your Lordships' House. I wonder whether my noble friend can say what practical steps we are taking through our embassies and the British Council to help our good friends in the region. In helping our friends, we must do all we can to persuade Israel and Palestine back to the negotiating table. The lessons of Tunisia and Egypt hold great relevance for Israel. A two-state negotiated solution is now more urgent than ever. Palestinians must-as Egyptians will-enjoy the right to a democratic state to live their lives with dignity and respect, free of occupation and conflict. I applaud the words of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, because a viable two-state solution is a vital ingredient of a stable region.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, we should not seek to impose our system and, as my noble friend the Minister so rightly said, we should deal with each country in its own unique way. Ultimately, however, democracy must be the prize to which the world aspires. We, as British parliamentarians, are guardians of a long history of multiparty democracy and groups in Westminster, such as the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the Centre for Opposition Studies, help to project our values to a global audience. We should support aspirations for political plurality in the Arab world as a value we share and hold dear.
My Lords, some years ago, when my right honourable friend Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister, was visiting Palestine and Israel, someone pointed out that he may not have realised it was the anniversary of the Sykes-Picot agreement. He probably does not know what the Sykes-Picot agreement is, but everyone in Palestine knows its date and what happened.
I start with that because I think that we are still suffering from the unwinding of the Ottoman Empire. The Sykes-Picot agreement was an agreement among the allies to divide up the remnants of the Ottoman Empire. They created Syria, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon and invented dynasties that went on to rule these countries.
Many noble Lords have said that we cannot impose democracy. I actually disagree. The British Commonwealth is a splendid example of imposed democracy. I come from India. Democracy was imposed on India, and India took to it. Many Commonwealth countries did the same because the people in charge then insisted that whenever the colonies became independent, they became democracies. They could easily have chosen to make India full of maharajas, kings and sultans but they chose not to.
The point is not that democracy cannot be imposed, but that we no longer have the power to impose it because no one will listen to us. When we had that power in the Middle East, we imposed various kings like the Hashemites who, later on, were thrown away. Some of the problems of the Middle East are of longstanding origin. We have tolerated practically a century of instability in the region, or false stability under dictators and seething unrest among the masses.
American interest in the Middle East is only twofold: it wants to guarantee Israel's security and it wants cheap oil. Perhaps we are slightly distanced from that and, along with the European Union, we might be able to think slightly out of the box and propose other routes to stability in the region. Of course what is happening in Egypt is very exciting, as is what happened in Tunisia, and the transitions are going to be long-in Egypt it may even be bloody-but I am confident in asserting that eventually democracy will come to Egypt.
I also agree with many noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that we do not have to be afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood. Let the people of Egypt choose whom they want to elect. It is not up to us to lay down a criterion that some will be good Egyptians and the rest bad Egyptians. I remember how in India, as recently as the early 1990s, there was a fear of the BJP, a Hindu nationalist party, coming to power. Good progressive liberal friends of mine practically stopped talking to me because I was not as fiercely opposed to the BJP being elected as they were. I said, "It's up to the Indian people to elect or not elect whichever party they want; as long as the party competes, let the people decide". The BJP came to power, it was perfectly ordinary and it went out of power. The power of the democratic process is much stronger than the ideology of any particular political party, and we should not fear the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is also quite clear that the whole resurgence of Islamism in the Middle East over the past 20 to 25 years and the defeat of the secular, rather than democratic, solutions like the Ba'ath Socialist Party are very much because of the defeat of the Arab armies in three successive wars against Israel. After 1973 there was a crisis of conscience among the Arabs, who asked, "Why do we keep on losing?". One answer, although I do not think it was the correct one, was that they were no longer as "pure" as they used to be. They had to purify themselves as good Muslims in order to be able to win the nest battle. The Islamism that has erupted in the Middle East in various forms-Hamas, Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood and so on, although the brotherhood predates all this-is very much a consequence of the unsolved Israel-Palestine problem.
Many noble Lords have remarked on that problem. Perhaps I may something that has not been said so far. I think that the two-state solution is dead. What Al-Jazeera has revealed in its various leaked documents is that the last moderate Palestinian negotiating party has been destroyed. Hamas is still a popular democratically elected alternative but no one wants to talk it. There has long been a very settled opinion-or, rather, a strong opinion-on the left of the political spectrum that only a single-state solution is viable, that you cannot have an exclusive Israeli or Palestinian state. The land is limited, there are far too many claims, and a secular, multifaith, multi-ethnic state is the only viable solution. That will not happen; I know it will not. The only way to guarantee the security of Israel and the alleviation of poverty for Palestinian Arabs would be a single state with guaranteed minority rights, sharing the same land so that each can pursue their own prosperity.
We have just such an experience at home. Northern Ireland was for decades run in a democratic context by a single dominant community; the minority community was badly treated and took to arms. We lived through that, and the lesson we learnt there was that a single dominant religious majority does not actually guarantee security for the majority community and certainly does not relieve the minority community of deprivation. It is up to us to say, if anyone on either side would listen, that there is not enough land for two competing claims to be successful. The claims go back thousands of years and there is no way of deciding the historical priority of either community. Nor can we guarantee that the smaller state would be viable if a two-state solution were created, unless the entire international community was willing to foot the bill for about a century. So we might as well think of completely different alternatives. A single multifaith, multi-ethnic state in the Holy Land is the one viable solution.
Iraq has not been mentioned so far. We ought to realise that, as messy and bloody as the whole Iraq adventure was, it is now a democracy. It has had two or three elections, and the latest Government formation under Nouri al-Maliki took six months of negotiations. Everybody patiently negotiated. There was no instability. It was almost like a European democracy, where post-election negotiations for Government formation take a long time but everybody knows the rules of the game.
The fact that Iraq is the largest Arab democracy today is probably one reason why people in Tunisia and Egypt said, "Well, it is possible". If it can be done without all the bloodshed we had to go through in Iraq, all the better for all of us. If I could impose democracy on everybody, I would, but I hope that everybody realises that that is no better a form of democracy than western liberal reform. One can encourage diversity in this market but the superior product is well known.
My Lords, I also thank the Government for allowing us to have this debate, and congratulate the Minister on his masterly survey of dramatic events in the Middle East over the past few weeks. Although attention has understandably been focused on those events, I agree with other noble Lords who have said that we must not allow this to distract us from the very real and urgent crisis facing the Middle East peace process. This is a moment of potential disaster for Israel and for the credibility of the United States Administration.
I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davies, will allow me to refer to him as my longstanding friend, but I must take issue with his remark-if I understood it correctly-that the one thing about Mr Netanyahu is that he at least has something to say. I remind the noble Lord of something that Mr Netanyahu said in 1989: that his Government should have used the world's preoccupation with the repression of popular demonstrations in China as an opportunity to carry out mass expulsions of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories; so he has had something to say. Since that time, far from the uprooting of existing settlements, we have had an exponential increase in illegal settlement activity, including the conversion of outposts into full blown settlements and the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in East Jerusalem without adequate or effective resistance from the White House.
We have already seen how popular demonstrations in Tunisia have been followed by even greater uprisings on the streets of Cairo. Calls for freedom and democracy in Egypt, and the anger which we heard on the news this morning at President Mubarak's refusal to leave, may well spread contagion throughout the region in the short term. Even if there is not a further intifada in Palestine, the calls for action to end at last the 43-year old occupation and oppression of the Occupied Territories are likely to resound throughout the region. Unemployment rates in Palestine, particularly among the young, are as high as any in Egypt, Yemen or elsewhere in the Arab world. Not surprisingly, there is growing disenchantment on the Arab street with the concept of a two-state solution in the Middle East peace process, and increasing anger that the United States and its fellow members of the quartet have not only allowed the so-called road map to be torn up, but continued to reward Israel by pouring in vast quantities of unconditional military and financial assistance.
There is, sadly, too much evidence that Mr Netanyahu has now been allowed to reject the concept of a Palestinian state, and the promise of a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem. The real ambitions of the Netanyahu Government are becoming increasingly clear to the Arab world, not through WikiLeaks-few of us are in any position to judge the accuracy of its revelations-but through evidence in the press, on the internet and on Al-Jazeera that senior members of Mr Netanyahu's Government hope to turn Israel into an expansionist and Zionist state stretching, as Mr Ehud Barak has said publicly, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan river, if not to the banks of the Euphrates, as many of Israel's supporters including the Christian right claim. Incidentally, I do not propose to go into the Palestinian papers in any detail. I suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, who is not in his place, only that the Guardian's shock and outrage was not so much at what he described as the well known Palestinian offers. Surely what shocked the Guardian and many of us was that Mrs Livni had apparently rejected all the offers.
There is a danger that the popular revolutions in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere will encourage and strengthen the growing political influence of Islamist resistance movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and Hezbollah, on which Iran may well seek to increase its influence. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Desai, for putting the Muslim Brotherhood into perspective. Current events show once again the folly of the quartet in refusing to talk to Hamas, particularly now that the Israeli press has reported-perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Clinton-Davis, will be interested to hear this-a press conference by Hamas that explicitly accepts the right of Israel to exist as part of a peace settlement. The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, has rightly reminded us that Hamas is a pluralist organisation I hope that the Minister might today give the House some reason to hope for a change of mind on this question.
Clearly the inclusion of the Muslim Brotherhood in any future Egyptian Government would have an effect, both on Egypt's relations with Israel and on the threat of Islamist extremism elsewhere in the region. However, let us acknowledge that the Muslim Brotherhood represents for many in Egypt and throughout the Arab world entirely justified support and sympathy for the resistance to Israeli occupation, whether in Gaza or elsewhere in the Palestinian territories. If the Israeli Government have, as I believe, rejected the idea of a two-state solution, the consequences for Israel's future, peace in the Middle East and, indeed, Israel's existence are dire indeed. Even Israel's Zionist advocates in the United States must surely realise that the concept of two states-of Palestine and Israel living peacefully side by side-is the only hope for the future security and very existence of the state of Israel.
I have heard it claimed, as implied by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, that the other Arabs are doing too little to support the Palestinian cause. However, I remind your Lordships that it is now several years since the Arab peace initiative was launched in Mecca, calling unanimously for a return to the 1967 borders in exchange for Arab recognition of Israel's right to live in peace and security within those borders. So far there has barely been even an acknowledgement from the Israeli or United States Governments of that remarkable display of Arab unity.
The Minister said in his introduction that this is also a time of great opportunity. Unless we and our fellow members of the European Union take drastic and urgent action to persuade Mr Netanyahu and the United States Administration to change the dangerous course on which he seems to be embarked, our own national interests in the Middle East could also be in serious danger. Memories in the Arab world are very long. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, was quite right to remind us of the Sykes-Picot agreement. I am sure I have no need to remind your Lordships of Britain's special and historic responsibility for Palestine as the heirs to the Balfour declaration. However, I must perhaps remind some of your Lordships of a passage in the declaration, which is often overlooked and has been so tragically ignored by successive Israeli Governments, that says,
"that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine".
The Foreign Secretary has rightly argued that it is not for others-whether the European Union or the United States-to interfere in the internal politics of Egypt or other sovereign states. However, the moribund Middle East peace process and Israel's reluctance to participate in it is very much the international responsibility and interest of the European Union as a member of the quartet. I welcome, as my noble friend Lord Hannay did, the prospect of further talks between the European Union and the Israelis and Palestinians in Paris. I hope that the Minister can reassure the House that we are playing a full, if indirect, part in the efforts of the quartet, not just to get talks going again between the Palestinian and Israeli negotiators but to avert the very real and present danger for our interests if a two-state solution is seen to be no longer on the table.
On a point of detail, I argued in this House a week ago that HMG should find some way of underlining the urgency of progress towards the creation of a Palestinian state. One small way of doing that would be to upgrade the Palestinian general delegation in London to the status of a diplomatic mission. I hope that the Minister, when he winds up, will be able to tell us where that now stands.
My Lords, we have had the privilege of listening to two magisterial opening speeches and the benefit of hearing from noble Lords who have drawn on a vast reservoir of experience in the Middle East. My own experience is more limited but in 1967 I visited President Nasser in his home just after the six days' war. He told me that Israeli airplanes had circled his house, and that it would not happen again. I was again in Egypt last summer where I met members of the Muslim Brotherhood, albeit under the labels of independents, in the Parliament of Egypt. I also met the Arab League. When I saw that Amr Moussa was mingling with the crowds in Tahrir Square, I realised that we did, indeed, have a watershed in this region.
History is happening. Indeed, had this debate taken place even yesterday, it might have had a different tone. There is an old adage that democracies wither and die slowly but autocracies die suddenly by fits. There is a difference between the autocracies in the Middle East-all under pressure-and the monarchies. However, even in Morocco, which has gone further along this route and whose king, Mohammed VI, can claim descent from the Prophet, one is likely to see demands for a more constitutional monarchy. One's first thought is that, as in 1989-the year of revolutions-events have caught Governments by surprise. I suppose the only mitigation is that events have caught the Muslim Brotherhood by surprise as well. It is a fast moving picture. The Tunisian interim Prime Minister is a member of the old regime, as, of course, is Vice-President Suleiman of Egypt, who seeks to negotiate with the popular representatives. I am reminded that revolutions are poetry and governing is prose. When we move from the unifying demand of the removal of President Mubarak, one is likely to see a division in the square between the absolutists who brook no compromise and the pragmatists, who will, we hope, ultimately triumph and will be met with cries of treachery from some in the crowd.
What has changed in the Middle East? One thing which has clearly changed is the fear felt of rulers by the ruled. Your Lordships will recall when Ceausescu appeared on the balcony in Bucharest and was hissed at by the crowd. There was almost a Ceausescu moment when the rulers tried to order the people in Tahrir Square and were met with indifference and opposition. The situation will never be the same again for the rulers of other Arab states and all autocrats in the region will sleep less easily-"uneasy lies the head".
The future is uncertain. Some pessimists see parallels with what happened with the Jacobins in 1789 and with the Bolsheviks in 1917, and the danger of a well organised group taking control-again, new presbyter may become old priest writ large. However, many signs of hope are evident and are being broadcast by the new media and new means of communication. What has not changed are the challenges posed by democracy and the fact that the states in the Middle East are all ranked very low indeed in the EIU democracy index, which means that institutions in those countries have to be developed almost from scratch.
Equally, the economic and demographic factors have not changed. Successive UNDP reports on human development in the Arab world, as previous speakers pointed out, show the problems of governance, the underachievement in the Arab world, the unwillingness often to face reality, and the scapegoatism which states that the fault is not in ourselves but in our stars, the United States or Zionism. Expectations are high, yet there is high unemployment throughout the region and a young population. Roughly 50 per cent of the population of most countries in the region is under 25. How can one possibly meet the demands for improved education, housing and health after the turbulence of transition, which is likely to deter much foreign direct investment, and when global food prices are increasing inexorably? There is a clear danger of disillusion if new Governments do not deliver.
Those challenges of meeting the aspirations of an impoverished and very young population will have to be faced. What will be the result? For some, the choice is either 1979 Iran and the rule of the Mullahs or, far more to be desired, 1989 and the year of revolutions in eastern and central Europe. My hope lies in the precedent and model of Turkey. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, was the only person to make this point. Turkey is a functioning democracy where the Islamic party, the AKP, works within a secular constitution. My noble friend Lord Desai mentioned the unravelling of the Ottoman Empire. Turkey historically has had an enormous influence in the region, and Prime Minister Erdogan has gained much credibility in the Arab street and has so far made all the right noises.
Turning to the relevance for the region, we could profitably examine the effects from Syria to the Gulf and beyond. The Arab street will clearly influence Governments, and perhaps lead movements towards Sharia law and to a much harder line to Israel and the Middle East peace processes. The rejectionists will probably be emboldened, and Iran of course has exulted in what has happened, although it may well face turbulence in its own streets.
There have been protests in the West Bank against Abu Mazen, and the Fatah old guard is under pressure. History may show that the Netanyahu Government missed a major opportunity. I recall discussing the issue with a former Kadima Cabinet Minister who said to Prime Minister Netanyahu on the eve of his accession to power, "You know it took us in Kadima four years to recognise the realities of what we should do with regard to the Palestinians". Of course, there was the deathbed repentance of Barak before he lost power. The former Cabinet Minister said to Netanyahu, "Will it take you another wasted four years before you come to that same realisation?". Perhaps WikiLeaks has revealed the concessions that the pragmatic Palestinian leadership was able to and prepared to make, but obdurate Israel was blocked by coalition sclerosis. Instead of an agreed settlement on the basis of two states there is more uncertainty, and Israel is likely to lose the security of its southern border with Egypt and possibly that of its border with Jordan.
I accept much of the Foreign Secretary's criticism of Israel, but I wish that he had shown greater sensitivity to its problems. I hope, incidentally, that the Government will soon announce a change in the universal jurisdiction that prevents many Israeli politicians who could play a leading role in peace talks from visiting this country. That is long overdue.
I approve of the EU Council statement about the waste of taxpayers' money on the autocracy in Egypt, but there should have been positive as well as negative conditionality. What has been the EU and US response? I understand the hesitation, because of the clash between values and interests. The starting point must be humility and recognition of limitations. However, the EU-as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, pointed out-has vast experience of soft power, with programmes to assist countries on its periphery, and there is also the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. DfID may have to alter its priorities and invest more in Governments in the Maghreb. When I visited the Maghreb countries some years ago, I was struck by how limited our diplomatic effort there was.
As an aside, I recall when I was once in the western Sahara that my host at lunch left suddenly when his watch alarm went off. I asked why he had set it so and he answered that it was because the 1 pm news on the BBC World Service was starting: then he ran out to hear it. I echo the view of other noble Lords that we should look again at the cuts to the World Service.
What happens on the southern shore of the Mediterranean is relevant to us all. The Barcelona process of 1975 is dead. Euromed has met some of the same obstacles. Surely it is time for new initiatives in a new context. The Arab countries may now be more ready to give a positive response. The first response, as the Foreign Secretary has said, will be to the appeal of the Prime Minister of Tunisia. On the question of schemes of co-operation, I say yes to the Westminster Foundation, to the British Council, to good investment and to reconciling our interests and values and engaging across the board in a spirit of co-operation, particularly with the substructure or corps intermédiare-the non-governmental organisations. There are surely new possibilities for co-operation and we can, albeit in a new spirit, influence the region positively. I sometimes think that it is equivalent to the United States and Mexico, although the Mediterranean is deeper than the Rio Grande. It is vital to us in terms of energy, migration and general stability. It is a great challenge for us, for the United States, for our EU partners and, most of all, for the people of the region.
My Lords, I thank the Minister and also the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, for her remarks, which were clearly based on wide experience of middle eastern affairs. Change is occurring in the region: across North Africa and the Middle East. As we debate the issue this morning and into this afternoon, the situation is so fluid that changes are occurring not by the day but by the hour, and perhaps by the minute.
Concerns have been expressed about the vacuum that the situation creates-the gap that is left in the absence of the current leadership-and whether this opens a gateway for the vacuum to be filled by extremist groups. Let us be clear that these concerns are not unfounded, given that the policies that these groups extol-let us look at this domestically-do not safeguard the fundamental human rights of their own communities within their own borders. More often than not, their foreign policy has opposition to the West as the cornerstone of its approach. But do not let their extremist view be the one that represents the whole region and the parties within it.
We in Britain have a role to play based on our deep association with many of the countries, both through their being close allies and through our historical ties. We should also recognise, as many noble Lords have done, the importance of the region in terms of international trade. Suez is, after all, the gateway to international trade. Let us not forget that it is not long-a few months perhaps-since Egypt was regarded as a great tourist attraction. However, events have moved on. Is Egypt today regarded as a tourist attraction in the same way that it was only a few months ago? Undoubtedly, what happens in North Africa and across the Middle East-indeed, across the whole peninsula, including Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and as far as India and Pakistan-affects not just that region but the world.
However, let us look forward. What is our role? I align myself with the view expressed by many noble Lords that this is not about intervention but about facilitating. It is about recognising that we are a constructive and critical friend who will help to facilitate the transition. We need to work with the existing Governments under the transitional arrangements that they put in place and build strong relationships with the new ones that emerge. However, in doing so, we must focus on each country. Each country is unique with its own structures and institutions. As events unravel, it is also important that we let our voice be heard above that of people who seek to present this evolving situation as a clash of civilisations, which it is not, or as a clash of East against West, which it is not. Nor, most importantly in the current climate, should the situation be hijacked and seen as a clash between geo-Christian traditions and Islamic traditions. It is not, and it should be made unequivocally clear that it is not.
We oppose not the faith of Islam but the extremist and militant ideology, and we must stand firm against it getting a grip across the region. Indeed, let us recognise in our words and actions that Islam as a faith extols democratic principles and values. As a faith, it speaks of trusting those who govern you on the basis that you believe they are those who can be most trusted and who will dispense justice based on their integrity. Those are qualities which I am sure we all recognise and which resonate with us all. Let us look at the practical issues that are happening on the ground, to which the pictures from Tahrir Square in Cairo are testament. We see from slogans that there is no conflict between the communities. Muslims, Jews, Christians and those of no faith are standing side by side, demanding change. It has been said that the military has a transitional role in some of these countries, and I agree. However, let us recognise the role of the military thus far. They have shown authority and presence in Egypt but, thankfully, they have also shown respect and restraint. Long may that continue.
We need to demonstrate support for the new secular Governments who we hope will emerge, while not losing focus on the core conflicts of the region-a point to which many noble Lords have alluded. I cannot claim to have visited Israel in 1948 or, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, mentioned, 1967, as I did not exist at that time. However, I visited Israel at a time of hope, when the Camp David accord was upon us. President Clinton and Yasser Arafat engendered hope, and Ehud Barak was the Prime Minister at that time. There was hope on the ground among the Israelis and the Palestinians that something could be achieved, so I am an optimist. If we got close to that before, we can get not just close to it again but can go one step beyond.
As my noble friend Lord Trimble, who is not in his place, said, at this juncture courage and conviction are required to take that next step. We wish to see those two states, Israel and Palestine, secure in their borders and, most importantly, at peace with each other. As we look at what is unfolding in the region, let us recognise that each country, its system of governance and how it will evolve is unique. As we move towards a more pluralistic and representative form of government, we should appreciate, as noble Lords have said, the historical traditions of each country, its culture and the pivotal role of key institutions.
Public opinion on the streets of Cairo may be replicated across the whole region. We should lend it our support, not in an interventionist way, but by showing that we are a friend. As the people within these countries move towards the leadership they desire, let us be the friend that we should be to them and, indeed, the friend that they desire us to be.
My Lords, it is a privilege to be able to listen to the variety of wisdoms in this House. I do not speak very often, so in my 10 minutes, I intend to offer the House some positive solutions to the situation in the Middle East, the world food shortage, health inequalities, universal education and global climate change.
I should declare five interests in Egypt, the West Bank and Jerusalem. In doing so, I can show how British universities, businesses, social enterprises and health services are already making positive contributions in the region and should be aided to increase the scale and scope of what they are doing. That will make a real difference to development in the region. Now is the time for action backed with resources, not just wise words.
First, I am the founding governor of the British University in Egypt, which was opened in 2005 by Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall. It is part-managed by Loughborough University and is already making a significant contribution to the region. It turns out thousands of high-quality graduates each year in Cairo, many of them women, who are enlightened, connected, concerned and caring and beginning to take an active interest in developing and modernising their country and their region. Secondly, I am the unpaid chair of a health charity Healthtalkonline. The University of Oxford is working with Ben-Gurion University to make patient experience of illness available online for free in Arabic, Hebrew and English to all communities in the region. By sharing experience of their conditions across all divides, it helps them to live better lives and increases understanding and empathy. Thirdly, I chair, also unpaid, the Sindicatum Climate Change Foundation and will explain later what it is doing in the region. Fourthly, I own a small apartment in Jerusalem, because I have to be there 10 times a year, and, finally, I am an unpaid director of Moon Valley Enterprises Ltd, a social enterprise working in the West Bank. It is the main project I want to put before the House today.
We started Moon Valley two years ago, on a trip to Ramallah with my noble friend Lord Desai, at the request of Salem Fayed from the West Bank, Gordon Brown from the UK and Tony Blair from the quartet. They agreed that peace and stability in the region could be viable and sustainable only when people are offered an alternative to the current situation, can feel secure because they can apply for jobs and can choose a normal life. We agreed that Governments, including our own, need to take practical measures to those ends and to invest in peace as it if were a business. They need to think differently about aid and the culture of aid; they need to do things differently, taking practical steps to create sustainable jobs and make them accessible to the poorest and most disfranchised in the community.
We agreed to tie ourselves together-that is, the Palestinians, the UK and Europe, the USA, business, NGOs and the Government-to get the West Bank working. We planned to facilitate small-scale farmers, traders and marketeers to be able to compete on the world stage so that they can see that a different kind of future is available where wealth, aspiration and peace can flourish. A few of us were asked to help the Palestinian farmers to get their production and quality up to the standard required for world export, and to get access to the high-quality UK retailers and perhaps later to Europe and the USA.
How can that be possible out of the West Bank? The West Bank is 250 metres below sea level. Between October and March, when the temperature is 6 degrees in Jerusalem, it is 27 degrees at the West Bank. Therefore, one can grow and pick salads, herbs, tomatoes and peppers when hitherto one could get them from only southern Spain or California.
Two years on, we are delivering fresh herbs and sweet peppers to Sainsbury's, Marks and Spencer and the Co-operative Group. These British retailers are very supportive and patient. The quality of the Palestinian products and its service is improving. The Israelis allow us ease of access through the checkpoints. Jordan flies goods from Amman. We have been able to persuade the EU to drop its tariff, which until this year was 12.8 per cent on some of the goods that we were trying to import. If noble Lords want to know more about Moon Valley, Romeo films has generously made a seven-minute DVD in which Justin King, the CEO of Sainsbury's, Sir Stuart Rose from Marks and Spencer, and Tony Blair speak on camera. I have arranged for the Library to make that DVD available for people to watch.
Let me explain what this project means to the farmers. Currently, if a small farmer with, say, three dunam of land-a dunam is about 1,000 square metres-grows poor- quality produce inefficiently for the local market, the best that he can get is about $8,000 to $10,000 for his year's work. When I say "his", I also mean "hers" because 40 per cent of the farmers are women. If Moon Valley helps the same farm to grow on three dunam high-quality goods for Sainsbury's, we can pay them up to $20,000. What is more, during the rest of the year, they can make efficiently, and at a lower price, goods for the local market. We started with just herbs-rosemary, thyme, chives, sweet parsley and coriander. Now we produce sweet peppers and soon we will produce Medjool dates.
That is not all: British retailers are amazing at being able to use indigenous skills around the world in product development. We are planning to do prepared foods. A genius restaurateur in London, Yotam Ottolenghi who writes in the Guardian-some noble Lords might know of him-and his partner, one of whom is Palestinian and the other Israeli, want to help both the situation and us. They are going to lend their expertise to us to make high-margin, creative foods from the region. There will be the traditional dishes of the Bedouins, Druze and Palestinians. The dishes will include freekeh-a roasted green wheat; maftoul-a sort of couscous; za'atar-a wild thyme which can be used to flavour bread and rice; and molasses made from the juice of pomegranates, grapes and carob mixed with tahina to make a most delicious confection. Soap companies are now interested in Nabulsi olive oil soap, which any Arab woman will tell you makes your skin fragrant and soft. A huge tea company is looking at the mint and herb teas from Ramallah. Noble Lords can hear that I am back into my retail state.
What is even more exciting is that last week I went to Paris where I spoke to representatives from Carrefour, which has agreed to join us. Next month, I have a meeting here with Whole Foods USA, which has already indicated that it will be happy to take these goods as well. Therefore, we now need more capacity and need to expand the volume of production in order to serve this wider audience.
Initially, that can be done only with aid. We have recently met with Alistair Burt from the Foreign Office and Alan Duncan and Giles Lever from the Department for International Development. We are seeking funds of £10 million over three years to train groups of small farmers on the West Bank to supply more goods for this project. Our initial target is to engage 3,000 to 5,000 farmers, but eventually we see this spreading to tens of thousands of farmers in the West Bank. I know that DfID is now working with the FCO and the MoD to develop a new "building sustainability overseas" strategy, and we think that Moon Valley is it. We realise that we cannot expect the UK to do all of the funding, so we will be asking for some help from our friends in the Gulf.
We will work with Technoserve, a pragmatic NGO with a high reputation which gets these projects completed in many countries around the world. What is really important is that its specialism is to ensure that the money flows right down to individual small farmers so that they can improve their skills in agronomy and technology, business and finance, sustainability and energy efficiency. Those farmers are then able to grow their individual businesses while collectively they will play their part in the development of their own country, which can flourish. Technoserve is talking with Oxfam in the region, which is sort of leftish and is already on the ground working with the smallest Palestinian co-operatives, and Mazen Sinokrot, a big farmer who is sort of rightish, but who has capital, know-how and nous. Moon Valley will make sure that all sides get along with each other and work together.
While talking of sustainability and ecology, did noble Lords know that 10 per cent to 12 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, and that in this region, farmers just burn their agricultural waste? It could, by means of gasification, be turned into energy. We asked our experts at the Sindicatum Climate Change Foundation to go and see what might be done in the West Bank in terms of green energy. We have found that TMO Renewables, a UK company based in Guildford, is one of only six companies in the world that has a microbe technology which can eat solid municipal waste and turn it into ethanol as a source of affordable green energy. TMO was not really interested in the West Bank because it is making a lot of money in safer parts of the world. But we persuaded the company that if SCCF and Moon Valley were able to raise the funding to set up a $40 million plant outside Hebron and Bethlehem, TMO should give us and the Palestinians the intellectual property rights to clean up Amman, Cairo, Abu Dhabi and so on by creating, within the Palestinian territories, the first high-tech hub of this kind. The company has said yes, and next week I am going to Hebron and Ramallah to see if I can get all this to happen.
These are the types of pragmatic interventions that we in the UK can make in the region. Having proved that it can be done in the West Bank, we can do it again elsewhere in the region, perhaps with the people of southern Jordan who, as has been said, are as angry as the people of Tunisia and Egypt. This kind of thing could also be done in Gaza. This work can be done with these people and for these people. It is absolutely the responsibility of Governments around the world to support and build this sort of capacity. Aid is not aid if it keeps people in the same situation as they are currently in. It must not be a sticking plaster, but a large dose of antibiotics together with rehabilitation, respect, and perhaps even some reiki and some love. The region can modernise, develop and grow. The people there are capable and concerned, and they deserve our help.
My Lords, I should like to add a point that has not been touched on. This is not just a foreign policy question. Indeed, perhaps I may state the obvious, which is that the terrorist threat in Britain is centred above all on unresolved problems in the Middle East. Among other factors, there could well be an impact on disaffected British Arab youth on the street. I ask those on both Front Benches whether we should not be concerned about the fact that British Arabs have no positive role models here in the United Kingdom. Charity begins at home, so I cite as an example the fact that there are no British Arabs in this House, unlike other groups with a population of over 100,000.
My Lords, I join everyone in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Howell, not just on introducing the debate but for giving us such a fine overview of the issues. I greatly appreciated it, as I did the speech of my noble friend Lady Symons of Vernham Dean for the depth of her analysis, and indeed that of all noble Lords who have taken part. It would be hard to invent an occasion that could be more timely or more liable to turn out to be dramatically wrong before we even walk out of the door. However, I have been told by my noble friend Lady Symons that while huge numbers of people are out on the streets in Cairo, the latest information suggests that there have been no attacks on palaces or other institutions. Thank God, at least as matters stand, that there is little possibility of worse things happening.
As anyone who has been a Foreign Office Minister in this place will know, there is huge complexity in the whole of the region. There is complexity over regional security-Israel/Palestine is right at the heart of that, to which I shall come back if I may. There are intrastate complexities between some of the communities-for example, the Sunni and the Shia Muslims-which are not to be underestimated in efforts to achieve stable outcomes. There are huge interstate complexities in the security area. Although I do not want to dwell on them at any length because there plainly is not time, I, too, look to the south of Egypt and the pressures that have always come on to Egypt from there because of what the upper waters of the Nile have to sustain in Sudan. I, too, am delighted that the referendum in Sudan has gone peacefully. I just hope from experience that discussion about where the border lies progresses with equal ease, although I am apprehensive about it because it relates to where the oil is, where the resources are and who will benefit.
Security issues in the Gulf are more about Iran than America or any of the rest of us. These are tangible questions. Water security is another. There is the problem in many countries of dealing with an extensive desert, while increasing desertification in others squeezes what is available as arable land. There are difficulties surrounding commodity prices-not just food prices and soft commodities but most other commodities aside from oil such as rare metals. Every country that wants to see an increase in its economic dynamism finds itself under pressure. There are problems, too, because the biggest commodity in the area is often the only commodity that is traded to any extent by any one country: oil. There are also the problems that are being faced on the streets of so many cities as we speak. Democracy is right at the heart of them, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, so rightly said. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, pointed to the lack of alternative leaders. In countries that have had too narrow a political system, it is hard to see where people of great quality and leadership will come from-we need to return to the overall issue of leadership. There is also the question of how traditional authoritarianism in some countries can be overcome with the least turbulence. There are problems in economies in which the role of the state has been too great and that of the private sector too small, and where as a consequence transformational questions are fundamental.
However, whatever these generalisations, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. These are very diverse regions. They include, as we know, the oil-rich economies of the Gulf and countries that are resource-scarce in relation to population, such as Egypt, Morocco and Yemen. The region's economic fortunes over the past quarter of a century have been influenced by two factors above all: the price of oil and the legacy of economic policies and structures that have overemphasised the leading role of the state, leaving too small a space for others to emerge. As a consequence, about 23 per cent of the 300 million people in the region that we are discussing today live on less than $2 a day.
I shall choose one brief example to illustrate the point, although I have no doubt that, with the expertise that exists around the House, many others could be chosen. That is investment in education, to which I often turn back. I wonder what could be achieved if more was put into education. The paradox about this region and all the people in it is that investment in education, certainly in comparison with that in some other parts of the world, is high, yet the feed-through to the success of the economies is very low compared with that in most other parts of the world. Egypt is a very good example of that.
That must be in major part because there is such a small number of modern enterprises compared with such a large informal, low-skill service system underpinning economic activities in those countries. Whatever reforms are achieved politically, they had better be achieved alongside economic reform. The human capital dilemma is an enormous one. I emphasise that in education not just because of economic success, but because of the roots of democracy themselves.
There are rising aspirations. Everyone can see them around the region. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, made the point about electronic communications, and I must say that over the past few days I have been watching Al-Jazeera. That is not supposed to be an advertisement for the channel, but I have been impressed by the depth and seriousness of its commentary the whole way through.
There are rising costs, but there are very few real and clear ways for people to fulfil those ambitions. Even when they produce more-and many do-it goes unrewarded. Pluralism must be seen by so many people as the route to spread rewards other than to those who have been in power for a very long time. Access to the polity is what will help access to economic reward. My noble friend Lady Symons says that we need to capture the moment in this regard, and I wholly agree with her.
In the remaining minutes of this speech, I will turn to the key areas in which we need to be clear about what we can and cannot do. The first concerns aid. It is imperative that we understand from DfID what its aid programme for the region will be and how that aid programme-to which my noble friend Lord Stone made direct appeals-will help to grow economic success. That will also grow security success, which is always the case. On institutional reform, how can the Government seriously justify the cuts to the role of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy? I do not make a narrow political point. I tell noble Lords now that whichever Bench I sat on I would make exactly the same point about how we work to improve democracy. It has nothing to do with which party we support in this House or which parties or organisations people support in their own countries. My noble friend Lord Clinton-Davis and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris of Bolton, said that we should not interfere, and they are right, but it is not interference. It is enabling; it is making sure that people are funded to achieve what they can achieve.
I strongly commend to the House the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, on human rights because those are fundamental issues in the countries that we are talking about. On economics and trade, there has to be, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, emphasised, far more scope for EU relationships, which should not just be with Arab organisations and Israel, because there has to be at some stage a pattern of economic development and support for economic development that binds together to a greater extent the people who are currently antagonistic towards each other. I will not quote many examples in Northern Ireland, but there is no doubt that EU funding was important to the development of many of the institutions that went across the border. I notice that the noble Lord, Lord Trimble, shakes his head, but I watched the road building and I heard people tell me what it had done for their access to markets.
Someone once said that if you do not make those things work-if you cannot export your fruit and your products-you export your people; they end up going to where they think they can get an economic future. In this regard, I was so impressed by what my noble friend Lord Stone had to say. In applauding him, I want to add something. I know that we cannot use visual aids, but he was kind enough to give me a photograph of some Sainsbury's rosemary, which is "great with lamb and roasted vegetables". How very true. I notice that the label tells us the source is "West Bank Palestinian". That should always be the proper labelling of source so that people understand these matters. Others are working in the area, such as Sir Ronnie Cohen.
The political dialogue, as the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said, requires diplomats and people who are capable in that regard. I hope that the Foreign Secretary, whose work in this area in the past few days I applaud, will try to avoid the monochrome view that the diplomatic role has shrunk to being a super salesman for the United Kingdom plc. It is more than that, and this is the time when the skills are absolutely needed.
On security, I simply reiterate what others have said about the two-state solution. I wholly agree with the noble Lords, Lord Trimble and Lord Fowler, that those are the central propositions. The Foreign Secretary is entirely right to say that the clock is ticking and people will run out of time. Respect for international law, not least on settlements-as the noble Lord, Lord Wright of Richmond, so correctly said-is fundamental, as is the whole question of building walls and lines. Those are matters of international law as much as anything else. I understand the fear generated as the rockets continue to come in; it is wrong that that should happen, but it is wrong that recognition should be denied. I agree with my noble friend Lord Judd that denying recognition to the Palestinians is not a particularly helpful way of approaching the question. Those are all fault-lines that we need to try to assist in overcoming. I am, I think, a real friend of Israel and I wish Israel nothing but national health, but health also depends on the willingness of all the participants to behave in a healthy way. I think that that is a statement of friendship.
Among the last few points that I wish to make is that we should always be straightforward about the history, as the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, said. There is no point in misshaping history; we have to understand the sources of tension and understand them accurately. The noble Lord, Lord Wright, reminded us of the full text of the Balfour declaration, rather than just the parts that are sometimes selectively quoted, which provides an important corrective in this regard. If we are to be accurate in advancing the case from history that we should respect the outcomes of democratic elections and that democracy trumps everything else, I respectfully suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, that the election in Iraq was won by Prime Minister Maliki, who supported the intervention in Iraq. He won the election with the full support of very large numbers of people from the communities in Iraq. That was a democratic outcome. We might like it or we might not like it, but that was a democratic outcome.
Both the noble Lord and I know that the situation in Iraq, both before and subsequent to the election, was substantially more complex than the way in which he has described it.
My Lords, as I know from replying to one or two debates on Iraq, Iraq is incredibly complex, so I accept that point. I am just saying that we cannot be selective about the outcomes of elections in arguing the point about history. An election produces a result, and the result is the result.
Another quick point that I want to make is that there is obviously a lot that we can do in the area of culture, including through university exchanges-ensuring that students and academics from the region come to our universities-and exchanges in sport. I had some familiarity with such exchange in the Football Association, which did a lot of work training both Israeli and West Bank referees together. They found it much more interesting to talk about the state of English football than about the things that might otherwise appear to divide them. There are lots of cultural things that we can do, not least of which is that we really ought to look at how we support the British Council and the World Service. I wholly support what the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said about DfID money in that regard. It is astonishing to me that, having gone to such lengths to set up Arab and Farsi TV services, within months we cut the resources for one of our best advocates of soft power. That is just completely astonishing.
Finally, I know that whatever the difficulties of today and the past few weeks, and however difficult the negotiations at Camp David or in Washington, in my humble judgment-and this is my humble judgment; I do not say that as a matter of form-to know when the tide is going to turn, what events might precipitate a favourable turn in the tide as well as those that precipitate unfavourable turns in the tide. That is why I have gone through the issues that I have, because we must be ready to catch any favourable tide available. Even in unpromising circumstances, we must be ready. For those reasons, the FCO faces a great challenge; its political skills are its decisive assets, on these occasions possibly more important than any other asset that it has, although I do not exclude the importance of generating good business with people around the world. Bringing people together, helping to find the common ground, and doing that-as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, wholly rightly said-with our own national interests at the forefront of our minds must be among the things that we focus on through these next days and weeks.
Once again, I thank all noble Lords, especially the opening speakers from the two Front Benches, for speaking in difficult circumstances on a difficult day but on an issue that, whatever its difficulties, needed this ventilation.
My Lords, this has been a superb debate, as most of us expected, because your Lordships' House is very well placed to put perspective on to the rapidly changing events that we are debating. I congratulate all those who have taken part, and particularly reserve warm congratulations for the contribution that followed mine at the beginning, from the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, who as we know is deeply involved, in opposition as she was in government, in the affairs of many of the countries that we are discussing. Her contributions are extremely valuable. Of course, although she gave general support, as did practically everybody, to the line that Her Majesty's Government are taking, she rightly and properly had points of criticism. I might as well bite the bullet and take up those points of criticism right at the beginning and keep the better news for later on.
The noble Baroness as well as several other noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Hannay, Lord Judd and Lord Triesman, concentrated with considerable knowledge and pinpoint accuracy on this question of soft power and why at this time there were proposed cuts in certain services from the BBC World Service. I can tell noble Lords now that we are discussing the implications with the World Service of the package that was announced and are in close contact with it. The Foreign Secretary has mentioned the possibility of additional funding and we are discussing the options with the World Service. That is the position now. I hope that that at least gives some indication of a less than totally negative response to these concerns. I would add that what was to be cut-or proposed to be cut, anyway-was the shortwave service. The technological facts are that the shortwave service is being less listened to, because the world is now dominated by online services and a multiplicity of television services, including the BBC world television services and Arabic services. That is how things are going. I am not in any way suggesting that the age of radio is finished; in many ways, it is more important than ever. But there is a different pattern emerging. Quite aside from austerity and budget cut requirements, which are undeniable-it would be silly to pretend that they were not taking place-there is a change in the technological pattern of communication. Our soft power programmes must adjust to that as well. I thought that I would get that over at the beginning, because that is the position that we are in now.
I shall try to comment on almost all the very good points made in a reasonable time but, if I miss anything out, noble Lords can accost me afterwards and we can cover it in discussion and letters.
After the excellent opening by the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, my noble friend Lady Falkner of Margravine spoke with great knowledge about the situation in the area. She rightly spoke about the Muslim Brotherhood and of how one should have a calibrated attitude to it. That must be right. Obviously, in the goings-on in Cairo at the moment and in the move of the Egyptian Government, the Muslim Brotherhood has now been bought into the discussions and is, in a sense, accepted. She and others, such as the noble Lord, Lord Desai, are quite right that the Muslim Brotherhood should not be judged as just one lump, or one group of people with more extreme views. We have to try and disengage slightly from the historical record of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo, which at times was extreme. Today's Muslim Brotherhood is obviously of a different pattern and the senior people in it have a position that should be understood and discussed. That is certainly the position of this Government as well, so I hope that meets that point.
The noble Lord, Lord Luce, then spoke with great experience on the history both of his family and of his own role in the area, which has been considerable. He also mentioned the Commonwealth. Someone outside the Chamber said that it was rather odd for me to be making a speech and not mentioning the Commonwealth, so for a minute I was thinking how it might come in. The noble Lord, Lord Luce, brought it in and reminded me that I have noticed that one of the early requests from Juba-this new nation which is about to be born in south Sudan-is that it should join the Commonwealth. Whether that actually happens is of course not up to the UK but a matter for the 54 members. Whether it works is another issue but the fact that this brand new nation considers it a club worth joining is, to me, rather interesting and encouraging. There is also the point that the Gulf Co-operation Council states have expressed, at quite high level and more than once, an interest in being observers in the Commonwealth system. I will not talk further on that now, but that is where the Commonwealth comes into this story.
The noble Lord, Lord Luce, said that Ministers should visit the Gulf more often and he is absolutely right. I plan to go there in May and my honourable and right honourable friends are visiting constantly. Certainly, the Under-Secretary, Alistair Burt, has been there very recently, as has the Foreign Secretary more than once, both last week and a few weeks ago.
Finally, the noble Lord mentioned Somaliland and the problems to the south, with the piracy issue, which I mentioned in my opening remarks. I do not want, for any moment, to underestimate the extreme seriousness of what is developing. We are now getting to the point where it is not merely the Gulf of Aden and Somali waters that are dangerous but the entire east coast of Africa. Even those ships seeking to go round the Cape of Good Hope are now being picked off. This is beginning to create a vast no-go area throughout the whole world trading system. It is a serious issue and the Government here in London are taking it extremely seriously, co-ordinating work with the contact group that operates from Bahrain, but our strong view is that it is clear that still more co-ordination and a much more sustained international effort is needed.
My noble friend Lord Trimble made an interesting speech and raised a theme that has come through many speeches today: of the central requirement of a two-state solution, which runs up against the ugly reality that that solution is being undermined by the settlements, as noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Wright, have reminded us again and again. Many of us feel, as many of your Lordships have said, that here is an opportunity which has been sliding away when it is absolutely vital that there is a positive and responsible policy on the settlements, before the whole two-state solution becomes even more remote than it is. That is what we have to work for and what my right honourable friend has been arguing for in the past 24 or 48 hours, while on his travels. That is what we have to take a grip on, before the idea is destroyed.
One just hopes that the events in Egypt, their inevitable impact on the Israel-Egypt peace agreement and events elsewhere around Israel in the whole Middle East may involve the rethinking among Israeli government leaders necessary for them to begin realising that we must move forward. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Wright, made that point. There must be progress in this area before progress not only turns to halt and to status quo, which is unacceptable enough, but turns to regress and a backward slide into worse horrors and more poisoning of the entire Middle Eastern situation.
My noble friend Lord Alderdice also mentioned the Muslim Brotherhood and the falsity of the polarised argument that somehow one has to choose between Muslim intensity, even jihadism, on the one hand and sticking to the status quo on the other. That is not the situation at all. We, and all responsible observers, want to see a responsible and stable evolution of patterns of government in the area, including in Egypt where the storm has now broken.
My noble friend Lord Fowler spoke intensively and knowledgeably about the Gaza situation. I would love to be able to speculate in detail about what might happen if Egyptian policy changes slightly or if we could persuade the present stand-off, or difficulty, between Israel and Gaza to be modified in favour of more construction materials going in and so on.
Again, a number of noble Lords rightly pointed out that there is Hamas and Hamas; there are those who would like to move forward and engage in discussion, and those who would like to carry on firing rockets day after day into Israel, hurting, maiming and killing innocent people and treating their own people in a very primitive way. Somehow we have to find a way through this. The Government's view is that when and if the Hamas leadership conforms to the requirements of the quartet, by both its behaviour and policy statements, that is the moment when we could go forward. Until then, we cannot. That is the position that I have to report to your Lordships.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, made some kind remarks about me and mentioned the question of resources; of course, he is right. He also mentioned the World Service issue, which I have dealt with, and talked about the techniques of negotiation. One can of course kill any negotiation in advance with too many preconditions. He also made the very good point that if we are going to talk about some groups accepting Israel before talks begin, we must have a clear recognition that there is acceptance on the other side of Palestine as the new state with its own existence and legitimacy.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, talked knowledgeably about economic needs. One of the important contributions that we can make even now, at this moment of agony for some of the countries concerned, is to show that we can restore both confidence and the incentives to continue investing in and trading with these countries, and to help provide their business, which, in the case of Egypt, is just about at rock bottom at the moment. I am encouraged by the news of non-governmental organisations and trade associations like, for instance, those dealing with Tunis; they should take early steps to mount trade delegations to restore the confidence without which there will be no economic recovery.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, spoke about visas. We want to encourage genuine students from the Middle East to choose the UK for their studies. "Genuine" is an important word in that context; the reform that we are proposing, on which there is a consultation that has just closed, is not about closing our doors but is about a more selective approach in the interests of Britain. A huge number of responses to the consultation were received-30,000-and before any changes to the system are proposed they will be carefully considered. His fears are perfectly fair to air, but I think they can be reasonably met. He also mentioned the World Service.
My noble friend Lady Morris spoke knowledgably about Jordan, which she knows extremely well. Have we cut Jordan's aid? HMG of the day stopped aid to Jordan in 2005. Jordan is regarded as a middle-income country, so it is not a UK aid target, but we pay quite a big chunk of the EU Neighbourhood Partnership Initiative Fund; 17 per cent, in fact. Jordan has been due to get €223 million in the past two years from that fund. My noble friend asked, as did the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, about the Westminster Foundation for Democracy. I was puzzled to hear their concern about it being cut. Of course, it was cut last year and the year before. For this year, however, there is a 3 per cent increase, the very opposite of what seemed to be implied, meaning £3.5 million. That increase is secure for 2011; I cannot give any guarantees beyond that. However, that is the position, and rightly so because it is a very valuable instrument and it should be supported.
The noble Lord, Lord Wright, spoke with his customary eloquence about the settlement issue, and made us all wonder whether there is not, at this moment-because of the turmoil in Egypt and Tunis, the riots in the streets and the signs that a wind of change is sweeping through the area-an opportunity for Israel to offer some constructive thoughts to our American friends about how they can make their policy move forward, and how we can see the quartet conditions fulfilled. He also asked about upgrading the Palestine delegation in London. That is important, and a matter to which we are giving some thought in the context of wanting to back more softly the move towards a Palestinian state. I cannot make any firm guarantees as to how that process will go, or the timing, but it is certainly in our minds.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, spoke with knowledge about a number of issues. He raised the thought, which many of us have shared, of whether Egypt might emerge, we hope peaceably and without further bloodshed, in a sort of Turkey pattern: a country rightly asserting its own agenda and foreign policy and finding its way in the new Middle East-indeed, global-landscape but not necessarily aligned with the extremism of Tehran or subservient on every issue to the western powers. Could that be the case? Of course, Turkey has a very different pattern within from Egypt. It is a different kind of society. The religious elements have a slightly different place. But it is an interesting thought and maybe that is how things could go, and in which we should work to encourage them to go if we are skilled and lucky.
My noble friend Lord Ahmad spoke with force and splendid optimism about the possibilities. As he rightly said, this is not a straight clash of ideologies, faiths and civilisations. There are quite different forces at work. Out of them might come some good developments in line with what I have no doubt was in my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary's mind when he spoke about the moment of opportunity.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, I thought the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Stone, was absolutely terrific. It was very positive. It just shows what can be achieved and is being achieved if one gets down to practical business measures. One has only to visit Ramallah or hear about what is going on there to see that business is booming. All kinds of fascinating new relationships, trade links and investments are opening up. As the noble Lord, Lord Stone, went on to talk about the details of the food possibilities, he began to make me feel quite hungry and that it was well past our lunchtime. This is practical stuff and exactly what we should have worked for all along and should work for in the future. I could not be more congratulatory on what the noble Lord is achieving with the project he described.
The noble Lord, Lord Triesman, rightly majored on education and aid programmes. I think I have said enough to indicate what we aim to do. It is our place to stand up for universal human rights, strong representative institutions and democratic values, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and the rule of law. I agree with those who have warned that there is no single model. Each of these countries has a different history, different concerns and different tensions. We do not have a blueprint for reform-that would be arrogant.
In Egypt, the UK wants to work with Arab leaders to produce an irrevocable transition to a broader-based Government, with the Egyptian people deciding on the leadership of their country. They may be doing so at this very moment. In Tunisia we welcome the remarkable transition that is under way and we will support the new Government there. In Jordan, we welcome recent moves to open up the political space. Jordan is a strong proponent of reform. In Yemen, we welcome, as did my right honourable friend the other day, President Saleh's commitment that he will not seek re-election, in line with the Yemeni constitution, and will re-engage with opposition parties. There are dangers there but also some positive forces. In all of this I reiterate the Government's intention to intensify Britain's historic relations with the Middle East, particularly with the GCC states as well as the countries we have focused on today. To protect the security of the UK and advance our prosperity, the Government will work closely with partners in the region on their own reform and renewal, and continue to work closely with those who seek peace and stability in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
The Arab Partnership, which I mentioned in opening the debate, is just one of the broader UK efforts on these issues. It will supplement the work of DfID in the region as well as other Foreign Office programme spending, which the Foreign Secretary announced only the other day. It goes hand in hand with the training, mentoring and support work carried out by the UK Armed Forces across the region, including their work in maritime security in the Gulf, which is of growing importance. It reinforces the trade and investment between British business and commercial partners across the Middle East and north Africa. That means not just trade in the physical sense but the exchange of services, knowledge and education, all of which add up to an enhanced soft power capacity for this country.
We have a crucial stake in the stability and prosperity of the region, which includes vital work on UK interests such as countering radicalisation, securing energy supplies and ensuring open and accessible markets. It also includes working to promote an environment in which trade and investment can flourish through shared standards and a level playing field for business, and encouraging participation by all members of society.
I end by re-emphasising that we are in a new international landscape. Power has shifted in this world. Influence has shifted and is shifting even now. In the centre of all this my right honourable friend has spoken of a "distinctive British foreign policy". What does that mean? It means that we continue to be good Europeans. Europe is our neighbourhood and we want to be positive in the reform of the European Union, building on its past success but meeting the challenges of the 21st century. We remain good Atlanticists and close allies of our friend the United States in many aspects. However, we have our own role to play. It is just possible that, rather than talking of shrinkage and decline, the role of this nation, with its history, talents and experience, will be more significant and bring more opportunities than ever before.