At Brookings Institution, Alain Juppé Discusses the Arab Spring

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French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé delivered a talk entitled "The Arab Spring: Hopes and Challenges" to a capacity-filled room at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC on June 6.

Juppé, who has served in various capacities in the French government over the last 30 years, most notably as prime minister from 1995 to '97, began his remarks by admitting that the West had for a long time been concerned primarily with stability in the Middle East. In the name of the fight on terror, it "turned a blind eye" to abuses carried out by authoritarian regimes that served as "safeguards against chaos." The so-called Arab Spring now forces the West to reorient its diplomacy in the Middle East.

Juppé described the Arab Spring as a struggle that encompasses universal values, the right to choose, and respect for human rights. Referring to the history of revolution and struggle that France and the United States had to undergo in their quests for democracy, he noted that "we shouldn't forget the cost of democracy."

The foreign minister voiced concern over the risk that these movements could be hijacked by extremist forces, but insisted on an inclusive political reconciliation process in which all actors, including Islamists, were present at the table, provided they accept democracy and not espouse violence.

France's history and geography place it at the center of the long and uncertain process of change that has begun in the Middle East, Juppé said. It must assume its moral and political responsibilities, he added, while also keeping in mind its interests. Citing France's active support to Egypt and Tunisia earlier this year, and its efforts to get the international community to act on Libya, he urged the world to "assume the responsibility to protect." International law was the only basis on which action was taken on Libya, Juppé noted, so the use of force was thus "an instrument that ensures the law." He noted that the NATO's efforts in Libya are strengthened by the International Criminal Court's arrest warrant for Col. Muammar Qaddafi and by the resignation of members of his own government.

The French official also touched on other states in the region, denouncing the violent Syrian crackdown on demonstrators. In Hama, he added, "history is tragically repeating itself." Juppé lauded the government of Morocco and King Mohammed VI for opening up and paving the way for change through the drafting of a new constitution there.

Juppé, who has met with young activists in Egypt and Tunisia, said he felt the impatience for change in those countries and the need for economic reform. "All the ingredients for economic collapse are present in Egypt," he warned, referring to a sharp decline in tourism, refugees entering from Libya and lack of foreign investment. …