G8 pledges support for Arab Spring countries

September 20, 2011 - 8:00 PM

NEW YORK (AP) — The world's major industrialized nations pledged Tuesday quick and concrete action with a long-term political and economic impact to support Arab nations as they move along the road to democratic reform after uprisings that toppled authoritarian rulers.

Foreign ministers of the Group of Eight also said they would support other Mideast nations that seek transitions to democracy and promised that the help would address the specific needs of the various Arab countries that have ousted their autocratic leaders through mass uprisings.

So far, roughly $80 billion in aid for Egypt, Jordan, Tunisia, Jordan and Morocco had been pledged over the next two years, according to French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe.

The comments, which followed a meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, reflected the international community's focus on the revolutions and uprisings that have rolled through the Arab world — erupting first in Tunisia before moving to Egypt. Both those nations saw their long-time leaders pushed from power in an avalanche of popular outrage that has since spread to Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. Of that list, only Libya has seen a regime change while the other nations are mired in bloody battles as their respective rulers cling to power.

"The Arab Spring is today a source of great hope," the G8 said in a declaration issued after the meeting. "It originated from the aspirations of the peoples of the region for greater freedom, justice and human dignity. It is both a political and economic challenge that demands immediate and concerted action."

At a meeting in Deauville, France last May, the G8 launched a partnership with Tunisia and Egypt, and has since expanded the partnership to include Morocco, Jordan and Libya. The partnership also includes Gulf Arab titans Saudi Arabia and Qatar, as well as Turkey, along with international organizations like the International Monetary Fund.

The latest gathering built on the Deauville meeting and sought to further sharpen the focus of the assistance as the various nations meet new and rising challenges, ranging from kick-starting stalled economies to setting up political parties, holing parliamentary elections and dealing with still staggeringly high unemployment levels. But with each nation in a different phase of reforms or dealing with the fallout from the uprisings, the G8 states and the five Arab nations that are the beneficiaries of the aid stressed the need to tailor the aid in a way that respects sovereignty and addresses their specific needs.

Juppe said that the partnership between the G8 and the Arab countries must be "authentic," as well as global and "implementable."

The French foreign minister said that "it is their transition" to democracy and it was "up to them" on how to implement their reforms.

More than a measure of pragmatism, the focus on tailor-made approaches to reform also reflect the growing disaffection being voiced by some of the Arab masses toward the West. Egyptians, for example, have grown increasingly critical of the United States despite the U.S.'s backing of the uprising.

"In our region, we are passing through an extraordinary and a really historical moment which needs extraordinary and exceptional ways to deal with it," Egyptian Foreign Minister Muhammed Amr said. "We think that whatever we decided upon should be sustainable, should be implemented immediately and ... should be demand driven."

"Time is of the essence," he said. "Our people have very high hopes and they need to see results on the ground."

The new governments in Egypt and Tunisia, for example, have endured major pressure at home as they struggle to move forward with political reforms. Egyptians have been clamoring for more jobs, higher pay, political transparency and accountability for former regime figures while criticizing the country's military rulers for adopting what they say are many of the same heavy-handed tactics against which they rebelled.

With economic woes serving as a major catalyst in the uprisings, the G8 plan for the five countries includes efforts to strengthen economic development through measures such as strengthening bilateral assistance and private sector development. The statement also said the partners were ready to provide "assistance to achieve the needed constitutional and institutional reforms that ... should allow the consolidation of the rule of law."

It also said the nations would fulfill their commitments to return assets stolen by the former regimes and that it was supportive of efforts by Libya's transitional government to ensure that unfrozen assets "are used transparently and accountably for the benefit of the Libyan people."

Libya's de facto prime minister, Mahmoud Jibril, said it was important for the Arab nations to strike the right balance with the G8 to ensure that the relationship between them and the industrialized nations is one of symbiosis, not "another dependency."

"Without positioning ourselves accurately and in the right place, we will not bring any added value, not bring anything to the table," Jibril said. "Therefore, the question of positioning is the most crucial element, I think, in this potential partnership. Without it, we cannot talk about competitiveness."