Evidence heard in Public

Questions 1 - 37



This is a corrected transcript of evidence taken in public and reported to the House. The transcript has been placed on the internet on the authority of the Committee, and copies have been made available by the Vote Office for the use of Members and others.


The transcript is an approved formal record of these proceedings. It will be printed in due course.

Oral Evidence

Taken before the Foreign Affairs Committee

on Tuesday 29 November 2011

Members present:

Richard Ottaway (Chair)

Mr Bob Ainsworth

Mr John Baron

Ann Clwyd

Mike Gapes

Andrew Rosindell

Mr Frank Roy

Sir John Stanley

Rory Stewart

Examination of Witnesses

Witness: Intissar Kherigi, trainee lawyer and daughter of Rachid Ghannouchi, leader of the Ennahda party, Tunisia, gave evidence.

Q1 Chair: I welcome members of the public to this first evidence session of the Committee’s inquiry into British foreign policy in the Arab uprising. It is a great pleasure today to welcome-I hope I can get the pronunciation right-Intissar Kherigi to speak to us. May I thank you very much indeed for coming along and for agreeing to appear in public? Is there anything you would like to say by way of opening remarks?

Intissar Kherigi: Just to clarify that I am speaking as a British Tunisian, who has long been active in the struggle for human rights and democracy in Tunisia, and in a personal capacity. Thank you.

Q2 Chair: When you say British Tunisian, where do you spend most time?

Intissar Kherigi: Britain, at the moment-but back and forwards.

Q3 Chair: And what have you done in Tunisia in the past?

Intissar Kherigi: While working with the Tunisian diaspora community across Europe, we co-ordinated, through a number of human rights organisations and volunteering with mainstream organisations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, to raise awareness of the human rights situation over the years, particularly the plight of political prisoners or prisoners of conscience. We ran letter-writing campaigns, raised awareness by speaking to politicians and to EU diplomats etc., sent assistance to people in the country, particularly to families of political prisoners, and raised awareness through media and civil society.

Q4 Chair: Thank you. Well, we are delighted to have the benefit of your experience.

Looking at it very broadly at the moment, a number of reasons have been put forward for the uprisings across northern Africa, but in Tunisia in particular, which was the first. We had the immolation of the street-stall worker, which sparked things off, but what would you say are the deep-rooted causes of the Tunisian uprising?

Intissar Kherigi: Well, it came as a shock to many people around the world, even those who knew Tunisia well. But actually, if you look back over the decades at the political scene in Tunisia, it has long been clear that there are deep-rooted problems. There is a high level of authoritarianism, which has been raised by international human rights organisations-for example, Freedom House ranked it on a par with Zimbabwe, Iran and China in terms of political participation. It was named as one of the worst 10 places in the world to be a blogger. Numerous reports by Amnesty International and other organisations have highlighted the political problems.

It is clear that freedom of expression, association and participation have long been a problem, but what really ignited the situation in recent years was the economic problems, which have added to the underlying political problems. Corruption has been rising throughout the decade, as documented indeed in cables by the US Ambassador to Tunisia, who highlighted that Ben Ali’s family were known as the mafia and that they put their hands on literally every piece of private property that they coveted. For example, Transparency International mentioned that Tunisia had missed out on two to three growth points due to corruption. So up to 20% of the GDP was being wasted through corruption.

These issues really contributed, particularly the disparities between regions in terms of economic development. Mohamed Bouazizi, whose suicide of course sparked the revolution, was from Sidi Bouzid, which is a very marginalised area. It has long been known that the south of the country has been left behind, and that there have been high levels of deprivation, marginalisation and unemployment-there is a youth unemployment rate of 30%. These are structural issues that are replicated across the Arab world: a very high youth population, high rates of corruption and high rates of unemployment.

I think in Tunisia, it was a random event that created a spark on fertile ground for dissent. Of course, the role of social media has been highlighted, but that was just an enabling factor in highlighting a lot of issues that were already there and that were underlying.

Q5 Chair: Do you think we should have seen it coming? Someone said to me the other day that the first sign that this was coming was the food riots in Egypt two years earlier, but President Mubarak did not see it coming, the CIA did not see it coming and our own intelligence agencies, I suspect, did not see it coming. Do you think we should have seen it coming?

Intissar Kherigi: It is difficult to say that it could have been predicted in terms of timing, but the instability of these regimes has long been recognised. In the aforementioned cables by the US Ambassador, he did note: "the chorus of complaints is rising...the risks to the regime’s long-term stability are increasing". So there has long been an awareness that the stability of these regimes is very much in question. I think the question to be asked is what was done about it. I think the awareness was there, but the question is whether a contingency plan was put in place or there was alternative thought as to how to deal with this instability.

Q6 Andrew Rosindell: Good morning. Tunisia was the first country to move towards democracy. How would you assess the success of that transition since it began? Do you think that a multi-party democracy is now embedded in Tunisia, or is there a long way to go before we can say that it is such a democracy?

Intissar Kherigi: In some ways, Tunisia is a likely candidate for democratisation in the sense that it has strong state institutions, a highly literate, educated population and a functioning administration, so there are certain things that herald well for democracy. In terms of multi-party democracy, although the crackdown on political parties had been very severe under Ben Ali, there were still vestiges of opposition. There was the official Opposition, who had worked with Ben Ali in his makeshift Parliament, and the unofficial opposition, who had been banned under him and who worked together to form alliances.

The reason why an interim-a new, incoming-government have come together so quickly is that many of these political parties had relations before and had a long history of dialogue. CPR, Ettakatol and Ennahda are currently in the government. CPR and Ennahda had had extensive relations before. They came together to write common papers and to produce common intellectual and political positions on issues such as freedom of political participation, freedom of expression and association, the rights of women, and political pluralism, so there is a strong basis for multi-party democracy in Tunisia.

The story that has gone untold at the international level is that vestiges of the previous regime are still there and there is a risk of counter-revolution. For example, it came out in a court case a few weeks ago that Ben Ali’s wife had been in touch with various associates in the country to urge them to cause riots and unrest. We have seen some of this happening in the country in the past few weeks, so it is particularly important that we recognise that it is still a very nascent democracy. It is very promising, but at the same time there needs to be a great deal of support. Just as central and eastern European countries might not have been able to move to democracy without the extensive political and economic support they received from the international community, Tunisia could be a model for the region and it really needs to be supported right now.

Q7 Andrew Rosindell: Were the elections genuinely free and fair by standards we would expect in our own country, here in Britain? Do you think that respect for human rights and all the values that countries like ourselves have enjoyed are becoming secure under a new, democratic system in Tunisia?

Intissar Kherigi: Having been there during the elections and spoken to several international observers and domestic monitors, I think the elections were largely free and fair. There have been observations by Council of Europe delegates, for example, that they were fairer than some elections they have seen in old democracies. There has to be recognition of the tremendous achievement in getting the elections finished and getting a political transition in a very satisfactory manner. Some issues were raised in terms of transgressions, political funds and so on, but the good thing is that they have been largely resolved through the courts-through the legal process.

As for human rights, I think the uprising shows that Tunisians want exactly the same rights as those enjoyed by other nations. Unfortunately, there has long been a perception that while Europe wants democracy for itself, it does not want it for peoples of other regions, including Tunisia. The commitment to human rights is very high and civil society has been flourishing in the 10 or 11 months since the uprising. We have seen a plethora of human rights organisations and student, youth and women’s groups-all sorts are engaging in political debate and constructing a democratic culture in Tunisia. As for the institutionalisation of these rights, there is still a long way to go. For example, Tunisia could benefit from international expertise in how to regulate the media, how to develop an independent and free media that is able to investigate allegations of corruption against government and to highlight social issues and so on. The judiciary is also a significant issue in relation to human rights. Given that most of the abuses that happened passed through the hands of judges, judicial reform is going to be very important, particularly the judicial appointment process. The security forces are also a significant issue, because there is a significant lack of trust in the police forces. Again, that is an area where the UK could lend its expertise.

Q8 Andrew Rosindell: Is the fact that your new constitution is still to be sorted out going to leave a political vacuum in the interim?

Intissar Kherigi: It is clear that the incoming government have legitimacy from the people, and the constituent assembly has the clear role of appointing or electing the President, who will then appoint the Prime Minister, who will then appoint the government. There is a clear process set out for how the political transition will take place, and I believe the announcement of a new government will take place next week. I do not think there is too much risk of political vacuum at present.

Q9 Ann Clwyd: Hello. A lot of new democracies pay lip service to human rights, but there is usually quite a big gap between what they understand as human rights and what we understand. It is not part of the Tunisian culture, is it? So, how long do you think it will take to instil a concept of human rights in the country? Is there a human rights minister, for instance, in the government, who specifically deals with human rights? What sort of status has that minister, if there is such a one?

Intissar Kherigi: In terms of the basic freedoms that we understand, from civil liberties in terms of freedom of association, expression and so on, those are very much understood in Tunisia. The demands for those rights were the well spring; the demands for those rights were enshrined in the demands of the revolution, particularly the issue of political participation and freedom of association. The fact that the Tunisian people were denied those rights for many decades gave them an awareness of their meaning, true significance and value. There is an awareness of the importance of human rights. Of course, that is going to take different forms; institutional mechanisms have to be put in place.

Several parties have proposed having a human rights council, and a minister specifically responsible for human rights, but that has to be discussed among the different parties. In terms of an understanding of human rights, there is awareness among the population, and there is a commitment specifically to civil liberties, particularly in terms of women’s rights. It is very encouraging that a large number of women were elected to the constituent assembly and that all the main political parties have committed themselves to the maintenance of women’s rights, as enshrined in the personal status code, and to furthering them.

While Ben Ali was lauded on the international level for progressing women’s rights, in fact if you look behind the scenes, only a fifth of the labour force in Tunisia are women. There is a significant gender pay gap, and women tend to be concentrated in insecure employment with low pay, and also in part-time employment. This will be a significant part of the work programme for the incoming government, and I hope they will be supported in achieving that.

Q10 Ann Clwyd: You talked about freedom of the press. What is the spread of ownership of TV and the written press? Is it evenly spread or is it in the hands of one strong person? Can you describe it?

Intissar Kherigi: It is very difficult to give figures, as there is such a lack of transparency in the media. There is a national public media service broadcaster, which is the main source of information for many people. As to private channels, there is little public information available as to the percentage of ownership. It is very difficult to get those figures.

What is known is that very large channels are still owned by people who were close to the Ben Ali regime, such as Nessma and so on. While they have changed their narrative slightly after the revolution, it is still ambiguous as to how the channels will be opened up, and how competition will be introduced into the media sector. Currently, it is oligopolistic really and needs to be opened up. Much better scrutiny needs to be afforded to the ownership and management of the companies.

The press has been liberalised somewhat since the revolution. New licences have been granted to some new newspapers, so there has been an improvement in the written media. But standards are still somewhat lacking. Because of the fact that the only journalism training school, which was controlled by the regime, had a very low level of teaching, it will obviously take some time to improve. I think that a media code and a press code are really needed to encourage transparency and greater information as to the ownership of these channels.

Q11 Ann Clwyd: Have all political prisoners been released?

Intissar Kherigi: They have been released, yes. There will be a process for working out compensation for political prisoners and all victims of the former regime, but it will be for the incoming government to decide. The issue of transitional justice is, of course, very fraught. The line from the incoming government has been that they don’t wish to institute collective punishment; they wish to bring about a clear legal process within which individuals who were directly responsible for violations will be tried, and compensation will be given to victims. It will be difficult also to keep on side parts of the administration and bureaucracy that will be needed for the transition, so that is also a difficult process at the moment.

Q12 Mr Ainsworth: I do not know the degree to which it applies to Tunisia itself, but certainly more widely, a couple of generations ago the freedom movement would have been led largely by people with a secular vision. Now we are seeing increasingly, not only in the Muslim world but elsewhere, people with a faith-based perspective leading some of the liberation struggles. What is your perspective on that? Is it right? Has there been that big change? What is the reason for it?

Intissar Kherigi: It is definitely an accurate observation that there has been much more faith-based political participation. That has been revealed by, for example, several Gallup polls, which showed that the vast majority in many Muslim countries would like religion to play some role in public life but were are also very supportive of democracy, so clearly a stable relationship has to be instituted in public life between the two. I think that there is a disconnect in the understandings of religious-based political organisations, or as they are known, Islamists in the western world.

There is a disconnect between what the term means in the West and what it means in the Muslim world. In the Muslim world, it seems to mean any Muslim who enters the political arena, using their faith as a frame of reference, whereas in the West it has increasingly come to mean those of a Muslim background, who take up violence as an end and means of political change. That has caused friction between the regions in terms of political reform and progress.

It must be said, as we have recently seen in Morocco, that faith-based political parties are evolving, but I do not think that the West should see that as a threat to democracy. In fact, many such parties have been around for several decades. Islamist parties have existed since the 1920s. They have already taken part in the government in various countries. For example, in Jordan in the early ‘90s, they held five cabinet positions. They have taken part in the government in Morocco, Algeria, Sudan and Lebanon. They have learnt a great deal from parties facing the democratic process. They have increasingly embraced democratic pluralism and the concept of equal citizenship as a basis for political participation. Taking Tunisia as a case in point, the Ennahda party embraced the personal status code, which enshrines women’s rights, under Tunisian law in the 1980s and also accepted political pluralism at a very early stage.

In the 1980s, there were tensions between Islamist parties and Communist parties, and when asked about this in the 1980s the Ennahda party clearly said, if the Tunisian people wish to elect a Communist government, we would accept it and try to convince them through political means, and it will be tested at the next election, through the ballot box.

So I think it needs to be understood that there has been an evolution in terms of the political thinking of these parties; and that they are differentiated as well. Different parties in the region-different Islamist parties-have very different visions, different views. For example, a number embraced democracy in the 1980s. It has taken perhaps longer, for example, for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, but it has been a process of political evolution, and it is something that is important to people in the region. I think if we are to accept that a stable democracy will emerge, that is based on social consensus, then Islamists must be a part of this, as they do represent a section of society. I think any sense of exclusion or what would be seen as foreign interference would be very counter-productive in the eyes of people in the region.

Q13 Mike Gapes: On that issue-it flows nicely into what I was going to ask-a number of countries, including the British Government, have announced since the start of this year an increase in, or the establishment of, new programmes of political or cultural engagement with countries in North Africa and the Middle East. The British Government announced a £110 million Arab Partnership Fund in February. What is your assessment of what that will do? How are initiatives like that received in the Middle East and North Africa, or specifically in Tunisia-particularly ideas of assistance through organisations like the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, or helping to establish political pluralism and so on? Given that you have just had a pluralistic election, what is your assessment of assistance and attempts to assist from outside?

Intissar Kherigi: Just to preface that, I think while the messages from the Prime Minister of assistance-political and economic assistance-to Tunisia were welcomed by the Tunisian people, there was a sense of déjà vu when David Cameron first visited the region and it emerged that the vast majority of his delegation were in fact defence companies and arms traders. I think that sent a mixed signal to the region in terms of whether the UK had really changed its thinking, or whether it was just on the level of rhetoric. I think these programmes can play a significant role, but they must also fit within the wider context of the messages and policies that the UK Government are communicating to the region.

In terms of these programmes, I think they can be effective. I have seen various programmes-particularly cultural programmes, run by the British Council-for young people in Tunisia, which have had an impact in terms of raising cultural awareness.

Q14 Mike Gapes: Was that before the revolution?

Intissar Kherigi: No, this is after the revolution. The British Council has ongoing activities in Tunisia. I have not participated in any political awareness programmes, but, from what I understand from those whom I have spoken to in Tunisia, the visibility of these programmes is not very high, and the level of information that is available leaves something to be desired as well. The process of making funds available, how to apply for the funds, how the funds are allocated, the criteria etc. are quite unclear. It is felt that, while we see announcements of funding being made, the follow-up to that-where the funds actually go, whether they are actually allocated, and in what way-is missing at the grass-roots level, from the civil society perspective.

I think a great deal more needs to be done in terms of the visibility of these programmes and the sectors of society that they are reaching, because, unfortunately, when it came to political assistance during Ben Ali’s regime, much of the funding from the EU in terms of political assistance tended to go to elites with a close connection with the Ben Ali regime. Given that civil society is still evolving, I think it is very important for the UK, when it gives such funding, to be careful that those organisations are not simply the organisations that were favoured under Ben Ali’s regime, which have already developed links with the EU, etc., and are the ones that tend to get the funding.

It can be very useful, though, and it needs to take place primarily at an institutional level because the vital thing in the coming phase is for the processes to be put in place. Not necessarily the right policies or the right people, but the right processes in terms of the judiciary, the police and security forces, government and parliament, and instituting transparency and accountability. The UK has a number of mechanisms that it can be very proud of and that Tunisia can benefit from. A case in point is that many British Tunisians are active in Tunisia, and it is not inconceivable that some might play a senior role in the political process going forward. It has been proposed by one of the parties, Ennahda, for example, that Tunisia adopts a UK-style parliamentary democracy based on the Westminster model.

So there are very valuable opportunities for providing political assistance in a way that will feed in to long-term processes.

Q15 Mike Gapes: You mentioned the European Union. There has been quite a lot of criticism of the European Union’s neighbourhood policy and its approach over the past decades. There is a reassessment going on of how future assistance from the EU will be developed. One of the arguments is that there should be much greater conditionality about how funding is spent. How is that going to be received in Tunisia?

Intissar Kherigi: I think the implementation of conditionality of aid is something that civil society activists have long campaigned for. It is something that, unfortunately, was not seen under the previous EU policy. So at the height of the crackdown on political opposition in the 1990s, when Ben Ali put 30,000 members of opposition political parties in prison, the EU entered an association agreement with him. At the height of corruption in the decade leading up to the uprising, when corruption was reaching its worst levels, the EU was in advanced negotiations with Tunisia for advanced status. So I think there has been a perception that there have been absolutely no conditions in the relationship between the EU and Tunisia and that it has been all carrots and no sticks.

Unfortunately, the way that conditionality is implemented is going to be important, because now that Tunisia has elected a democratic representative body and will have a democratic government, for the EU to come in and say, "Now we will place conditions on our engagement with you," might send the wrong signals. So it depends on how the message is delivered.

I do not think that Tunisia and the new Tunisian government will have a problem with conditionality, given that they intend to respect human rights. So I think it is really a message for the wider region, for those regimes that have not yet democratised. Given that there is already a context of pressure on them, it might now be the time for the EU to say, "In fact we are changing our policy. We will be taking this more seriously."

Chair: We still have a number of questions and there are just a few minutes left. We would be grateful if you could give us relatively succinct answers, Miss Kherigi.

Q16 Mike Gapes: A final question-what you are really saying is that, because Tunisia has had a democratic transition, or at least is on the way, it will be more receptive to the idea of conditionality than, say, some other countries that might regard it as those on the outside trying to tell them what to do when they have not yet had that transition. Is that what you are saying?

Intissar Kherigi: I think that Tunisia, given that it has committed to human rights, will not have an issue with conditionality of aid at this present time, whereas some other regimes might.

Q17 Mr Baron: Miss Kherigi, may I just raise with you very briefly the issue of interest versus values and Britain’s approach to the region generally? The Prime Minister gave an interesting speech in the Kuwaiti Parliament in February that perhaps acknowledged that Britain in the past has not always got this right and maintained that our interests lie in upholding our values, yet many in the region, as you have referred to yourself, still point to the wish to pursue trade-in arms exports in particular. Some in the region point to the double standards of intervening in Libya but perhaps not in other Western-friendly countries such as Yemen and Bahrain. Do you think that Britain has the balance right between adhering to democracy and universal human rights and the interests of short-term stability and trade?

Intissar Kherigi: There has been a perception that there is a gulf between the UK’s values and its external practices, and this is a very widespread perception in the region. While people recognise that every country must pursue its interests, people would wish for a better fit between values and interests and for the utilisation of various mechanisms to try to create a better fit between the two. For example, the UK, when it has wished to raise human rights issues with a particular country, has found ways to do so. So with Zimbabwe, for example, I believe that the UK was trying to get the European Union to ban Mugabe from coming into the EU at a certain point and that the former Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, refused to attend various international summits at which Mugabe was present. Of course, there are state visits at which there are opportunities to raise human rights concerns, as David Cameron did in China, and there are various means such as summoning ambassadors and using the mechanisms that a government has to place pressure on a particular country.

I do not think that people would say that the UK is responsible for these human rights abuses. I think simply that the feeling is that there has been complicity in the sense that the UK and the EU have not done enough to condemn them and have actually facilitated them by giving millions of pounds and euros of funding. So it would be interesting to know whether, when Amnesty International or the UN Committee against Torture raised these issues, the Tunisian ambassador was brought in to have a word. It would be interesting to know why the European Union’s Association Council with Tunisia, which was intended to be a mechanism for raising political issues, did not convene between 2004 and 2007. There are questions about the fact that several mechanisms that were available were not utilised. So I do not think that people expect the UK to go around changing human rights practices around the world, but at the very least they expect it to use the mechanisms available to it as an influential country to raise such issues.

Q18 Mr Baron: Leading on from that, to what extent do you think British-how can I put this?-subservience to US policy in the region is a hindrance rather than a help? In certain parts of the region, as we know, American foreign policy is not well-appreciated, particularly when it comes to the Israeli-Palestine issue. Do you think there needs to be a redefinition of our relationship with allied countries in the region such as the US?

Intissar Kherigi: I think there is definitely a perception that the UK has been very closely aligned with the US, and the perception in the region is that that is sometimes against its own interests. For example, the war in Iraq had a significant effect on how people in Tunisia saw the UK and on the level of trust that was present with regard to the UK’s foreign policy. So, I think that there needs to be a fundamental realigning of values and interests.

I think that this is a really unique opportunity for the UK to really examine previous policy making and decision making and to think about whether the decisions that have been made have really served British interests in the long term. Nobody is asking the UK to toss its interests aside. In fact, what these events show is that stability, in the Ben Ali model, has not served Britain’s interests in the long term. The same can be seen in Egypt, where people have not rested at getting rid of Mubarak but have also sought deep-rooted political reform, and this will of course have ramifications for the UK. I think it really shows everybody that there can be no stability without liberty and democracy in the region and that this is a unique opportunity for the UK- vis-à-vis Tunisia-to align its interests and its values, given that it now has shared common values with Tunisia.

Q19 Mr Baron: Sure. A good friend is sometimes a critical friend, in other words.

Very finally, let’s bring it back to Tunisia. In defence of the British Government, to a certain extent you could say that Ben Ali was not necessarily very open to dialogue and so forth. What else could Britain have done with regard to Tunisia? How has its approach in the region generally affected perceptions in Tunisia of British foreign policy?

Intissar Kherigi: As I mentioned previously, I think that there were a number of mechanisms that the UK could have used to at least make its concerns heard and known. That could have been through calling in ambassadors, through mentioning the issue or through trade. The UK has significant economic interests in Tunisia and there are a number of ways in which it could have used them to place some pressure on the regime. Its role in EU policy towards Tunisia was somewhat mistaken as well. It appears that the EU policy has been largely driven by France and Italy, which are much closer in terms of economic relations. That could be to the UK’s benefit, actually. In Tunisia, the main perception of the EU has been mediated through France and Italy, so, in a sense, they are seen as the greater transgressors in the relationship.

I think that the UK has an opportunity, while working within the EU to try to change that policy, to set itself apart slightly by also working apart and coming forward and saying, "We support democracy in Tunisia. We are going to put resources into this and show that Tunisia can be a model for the region." The UK can play a role in building a stable democracy and British Tunisians can play a significant role there. The UK should really think about the assets that it has-both the political assets and its cultural influence-and use them.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed, Miss Kherigi. That has been really helpful. It is very much appreciated that you have taken the time to come to speak to us.

Intissar Kherigi: Thanks for inviting me.

Witness: Dr Eugene Rogan, Director of the Middle East Centre, St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, gave evidence.

Q20 Chair: Our next witness is Dr Eugene Rogan, the director of the Middle East Centre at St Antony’s College, Oxford. Dr Rogan, thank you very much for coming. I am afraid that, because of the change in today’s business, this is a shorter session than we might have liked. If there are any outstanding items, we will get back to you. I hope that we can maintain the dialogue.

Dr Rogan: With pleasure.

Chair: I will leave it to Rory Stewart to open the questioning.

Q21 Rory Stewart: Dr Rogan, welcome. Thank you very much indeed for coming. You have written a powerful piece trying to look overall at the shape of these Arab Spring events. Why is it possible to see any pattern at all, given the enormous differences between the different countries in the Middle East and North Africa? Why is it that there is a single unified pattern or structure?

Dr Rogan: I think that there is probably not a single unifying pattern to the events of the past year. I would discern three distinct groups of countries across the Arab world whose experiences of opposition movements have been very different in 2011. On the one hand, we have the revolutionary republics. Those are the countries that have undertaken mass popular uprisings against their regimes, starting in Tunisia and followed by Egypt. Syria and Yemen would be the other examples at hand. We could add Bahrain to that, but it is sort of an anomalous example.

Secondly, there are countries that have a recent experience of civil war, which, it seems to me, has made them reluctant to mount this kind of mass popular uprising. I am looking here at countries such as the Sudan, Lebanon, the Palestinian territories, Iraq and Algeria, which otherwise would be ripe for revolution. In those countries, the reticence on the part of the public to risk it all in a violent confrontation with the state may reflect their recent experience of civil war.

Thirdly, we have the monarchies, which have had a very different trajectory this year. So in a sense, there is not one template that has emerged.

Q22 Rory Stewart: Sorry, maybe I was not being clear enough. You are seeing an overall pattern, even if you categorise it into three or four different units, stretching across a very varied region. Some of these monarchies are as far out as Morocco. What is it that unifies this region? Why are you able to see these different categories within a single whole?

Dr Rogan: The one common feature of all the countries is the autocratic nature of their governments, whether we are talking about a republic or a monarchy. That has been fairly consistent across the region, so if one common feature is motivating people to take action in 2011, it has been a growing unwillingness to live under autocratic rule, and particularly autocracies that fail to deliver for the needs of their people.

Q23 Rory Stewart: Why does it not spread to Chad, Niger or Iran? Where are the boundaries? How are they defined? Why is it such an Arab spring?

Dr Rogan: I think that there are cultural regions where the actions of one country might prove a more immediate influence locally than they would in the rest of the world. It was interesting to see the way in which revolution swept eastern Europe after 1989. These developments were watched very closely across the Arab world, but because they were happening in the Balkans, they did not inspire the Arabs to take action. I think what happened in Tunisia inspired a distinctive response among a cultural sphere defined by people who speak the Arabic language. It clearly has had repercussions beyond the Arab cultural sphere; I noted that in Madrid, protesters liberated a central square and called it Plaza Tahrir. However, the immediacy of the situation is what has really been influencing fellow Arabs.

On whether the reverberations are felt in China or Africa, I do not see the contagion reaching beyond the Arab world for the moment. I think it will take local conditions and local role models to set off a similar democracy movement in sub-Saharan Africa.

Q24 Rory Stewart: If you were advising the Foreign Office or some political officer and trying to help them understand how they could predict such events, looking back, what would be the warning signs for an ambassador in Tunisia, which would let them guess that a country like Tunisia might go before a country like Yemen?

Dr Rogan: Ambassadors seem to have shown deep awareness of the underlying tensions in the societies in which they served. We have not been given access to British diplomatic dispatches with the same liberality with which WikiLeaks has shared American diplomatic documents, but the American ambassador in Tunisia showed a real understanding of the frustrations of the Tunisian people with the corruption surrounding President Ben Ali, and particularly his in-laws, and how their extravagances were feeding a growing sense of outrage over corruption and inequality. If one thing should have alerted people across the region to the risk of revolution, it would be the growing inequality that was really becoming visible.

Q25 Rory Stewart: These are deep, long-term, underlying trends that you are pointing to, but what is it that you would expect an ambassador, an analyst, or a government to pick up that would tell you, "It is going to be this country, this year", as opposed to Yemen five years ago, or Egypt in five years’ time?

Dr Rogan: You know, Mr Stewart, I think it is asking too much of diplomatic officials to be able to predict with that degree of precision, given that someone is posted to one country without the comparative advantage of being able to study what conditions are like in other countries. However, if there is one thing that I think they could have done a better job of monitoring, it would have been the loyalty of the military to the regime, because if one feature emerged quite early in both Tunisia and Egypt that I think was unpredictable from the outset, it was whether the military would stand by the regime or would declare its autonomy or separation from the policies of the regime. That was completely unpredictable before 2011, and I argue that without it, there would have been no revolution in Tunisia or Egypt.

Q26 Mr Ainsworth: Dr Rogan, you wrote that the "the secular vision"-that was so strong a century ago-"no longer inspires the majority of the population" in the Arab world. Why is that? What is happening? What, therefore, is the outlook for secular states that have existed in the Middle East?

Dr Rogan: We tend to use the word "secular" to refer to the non-religious sphere. Our greatest concern in 2011 is to see pluralist political systems emerge from the transition, where religious-valued parties can compete on an open playing field with those that do not share religious values.

I would like to separate our discussion about secular parties from that vision for just a moment. When we talk about secular parties in the Arab world, we are really talking about parties that are formed around Marxist-Leninist ideologies, around Arab nationalism, or those of pre-revolutionary nationalisms, such as the Wafd party in Egypt, which was created in 1919 in opposition to British rule. These are parties of old men that hold absolutely no appeal to a younger generation, and you know the demographic profile of the region.

Q27 Mr Ainsworth: Why?

Dr Rogan: Because their ideas have all been discredited. It’s very hard to sell Marxist-Leninism in the 21st century, and there is no longer belief in the pan-Arab ideal that once motivated the Nasserists. The people who have filled the gap, who have been eloquent in expressing opposition and who have shown the courage of their convictions by taking on the regimes for the past 20 to 30 years have all been Islamists. They are organised, and they are omnipresent in providing for social needs-welfare and education-in societies as different as south Lebanon, the Gaza Strip, the slums of Egypt and right across Morocco.

In that sense, they are speaking a language of politics that is much more immediate and comprehensible to their constituents, but it need not mean a language that insists on the application of Islamic law, for instance, over the civil laws that the countries currently enjoy. There, I think, we have already seen Islamist parties that are emerging into politics for the first time in 2011 trying to calm fears, at home and abroad, that their ultimate aim is to impose sharia and a new sort of Islamic autocracy to replace the old, secular autocracy. That is where we then come back to the other notion of secularism, meaning a multi-party and pluralist environment, to which I think most people in the region aspire.

Q28 Mr Ainsworth: Do you think we should be a bit more relaxed about this?

Dr Rogan: I don’t think it is going to profit anyone to be particularly nervous about it. This is one of those moments where outside actors play a very limited role in events and where modesty dictates that we take a back seat, in the West generally, and watch events unfold with as much well-wishing as we can give the countries in the region.

As the Chancellor will tell you later today, we are much poorer than we had hoped we would be at this point. Our scope for doing good with our resources, whether we are in America or Europe, is extremely limited in 2011. So the notion that the Middle East and North Africa represents a problem that the West can fix in 2011 is illusory. So don’t worry too much. Recognise that this moment of transition is being led by the peoples in the countries involved, and then try to help them in such symbolic ways as maintaining good relations between Britain and the new governments that emerge from these transitions.

Q29 Ann Clwyd: How would you describe the approach of the UK in trying to balance principles against trade? Have we got it right, or have we got it very wrong?

Dr Rogan: I think Miss Kherigi already made allusion to the Prime Minister’s visit to the region in February, where the perception that he was on a trade delegation rather than on a mission to congratulate the new revolutionary republics played very badly in the perception of Britain’s interests in the region.

I would say this: it is unrealistic to expect any country to pursue a disinterested foreign policy. Parliamentarians have been elected by their constituents to bring benefit to their own country, not foreign countries. It would be ideal to try to square national interests with national values, but the real interests that Britain holds in the region have to do with energy security and markets. Those realities are not going to go away because it happens to be a revolutionary year.

I would urge the British Government to show greater sensitivity to popular concerns in the way it interacts with the region while it is going through this transition. At the end of the transition, there will still be energy pumped out of oil wells in the region and there will still be a market for British exports of all industries; I would not want to privilege the arms industry. Better relations with the new governments that emerge in transition will be shown by greater recognition of the political change they are undergoing.

The disaster scenario is when the BBC reports demonstrators in Tahrir Square holding up particularly awful gas canisters. What they have been using in the past week, apparently, is much more violent than gas of the past, and it has all been made in the USA. That the Americans are providing these much stronger tear gas agents to fight against the legitimate demands of demonstrators has made America the target of so much anger. That kind of perception must be avoided at all costs. There should be sympathetic engagement, and nothing made in Britain that brings harm to the people. Then when transition comes, the markets will all still be there for the interests, but you will be doing so with friendships that are based on having respect and values.

Q30 Ann Clwyd: One witness acknowledged that there would be conflicts of interest in values in the various regions in relation to arms exports, and added that the "normal view" in the Arab world was that Western countries were "hypocritical". Is that the view in the Arab world?

Dr Rogan: The sale of arms has been primarily to enable autocratic governments to stay in power. The complex weapons systems we have sold to countries across the region-the Europeans and the United States alike-have primarily been used against their own people; with only very few exceptions have they been used in defence of their country against outside aggression. That feeds a perception that we are being inconsistent. I think that all countries have the right to acquire such weapons as their militaries need, and people have confidence in weapons produced in countries such as Germany, France, Britain or the United States, so that market will continue.

I think that I have already alluded to the way in which an engagement with countries in transition might enable the UK to continue to work those markets, but not perhaps at the moment and not in a way seen as upholding autocracies against protest movements in their own countries. Here, I would urge particular caution with reference to the monarchies in the Gulf Co-operation Council. Though that region has not seen particular ferment, I cannot imagine that Saudis or Omanis will long be happy to see Egyptians and Tunisians enjoying more rights than they do. The pressures that have been initiated in 2011 are long term and will continue to play across the region, so I think that in the most lucrative market for the British arms trade, the need to be seen not to be bolstering autocracy against demands for change at this moment will serve your long-term better interests.

Q31 Mr Roy: Dr Rogan, if David Cameron was wrong to lead a trade delegation laden with defence contractors to the region, what kind of delegation should he have led, bearing in mind the aid money that could be available from the United Kingdom or, indeed, the European Union? What should we have been offering instead?

Dr Rogan: It seems to me that in a moment of transition, such as we are experiencing now, the elements of soft power will bring most plaudits from the countries in question. I was invited to assist in a delegation from Jordan that came to Britain to study the workings of opposition politics. That is a very novel idea in Jordan. They tried the experience once, in the 1950s. Opposition in the Middle East has tended to mean people who want to overthrow the regime, so the notion of a working political system based on opposition is really quite alien. That kind of engagement-bringing civil society, constitutional lawyers and people who might help with the transition to a free press-and a lot of the work that the British Council does are all elements of reinforcing what people in the region most value and admire in Britain.

I would have liked to see the Prime Minister surrounded by wise women and men, coming to a new Egypt and a new Tunisia with offers of assistance in the areas where they are most likely to need it as they go from autocracy to an open political system. That would have been a more sensitive delegation. That said, I understand the motives of taking trade delegations abroad. I am myself a child of the arms industry, so I do not wish to make knee-jerk reactions against countries engaging in arms sales, but we are where we are, and the country will be judged by the way in which it conducts its relations with the region. I think soft power will promote Britain’s image better in the region than being seen to continue the old methods of selling arms to autocracies.

Q32 Mr Roy: In the promotion of reform, is the United Kingdom sensitive to local differences and cultures, for example, or is it a broad brush approach?

Dr Rogan: I think that Britain is extremely sensitive to differences across the region. I think you have an outstanding foreign service. The ambassadors that I have come to know who serve in British embassies across the region have a depth of knowledge. Many of them are Arabists. They are very impressive, and they represent this country very well. They have staff who are very well engaged in the countries where they are working and they do extensive research. What I have come to learn of the working of the intelligence services suggests that they are not nearly as bad as you would have the world believe. I think that there is a depth of knowledge that comes with a long history of engagement with the region.

Britain is no stranger to the Middle East and North Africa. For that reason, I think it has a reputation of being a country that understands the Arab world better than, say, my native country, America. A lot of people say, "The Brits understand us better." I do not know whether that is true, but the perception is there, and I would say take advantage of every positive perception you can.

Q33 Mike Gapes: In Egypt, with the first phase of the elections yesterday, carrying on until January, at some point-perhaps you can tell us when-there will be some kind of stability and some kind of political system. What will be the consequence of this process for relations with Israel and the treaty? Also, what is happening in the Gaza Strip and with relations between Egypt and the Rafah crossing into Gaza?

Dr Rogan: I hope we can come back to the question about the way the polls are being conducted in Egypt and what is going on in Egypt as it redefines itself. You started with one area and went to another. Let me address your question about Israel, because I think that is where your primary interest is. I would say that there are two countries in the Arab world at peace with Israel-Jordan and Egypt. Both those countries have every interest in preserving their peace with Israel. They are driven by the interest of showing the outside world that they honour their international commitments and that they are open for business, because both Egypt and Jordan are suffering economically very drastically. They know that it will undermine their credibility in the international community and it will cost them the support of Europe and the United States if they frivolously break relations with Israel.

My sense is that even in the transition, and even though we have seen very ugly protests against the Israeli embassy in Egypt-the ambassador was virtually driven out of town along with his staff-and a total breakdown in the responsibility that the Egyptian government owes to diplomatic missions in its country, I do not think that is a sign of the government’s unwillingness to preserve its ties to Israel. It is just a very delicate balance, because there is not a party on the political spectrum that has support for Israel on its platform. Israel is, in democratic terms, a liability for any party that is running for office right now. You could not take to the stump and say, "Our ties to Israel are something we all have an interest in", but realpolitik dictates that the government of Egypt will do all it can. It just means that the onus is on the government of Israel not to make itself a greater liability to its Arab allies by disproportionate action against neighbours in south Lebanon with the ongoing hostility with Hizballah, and in Gaza with the ongoing hostility with Hamas. If anything, it should put more pressure on the Israelis and their allies abroad to try to work towards a normalisation of Israel’s relations with the Arab states.

In a moment where the Arab League is showing itself to be unusually dynamic, to return to the Arab League’s initiative of a withdrawal from occupied territory in return for full normalisation is a good basis for meaningful engagement. By putting more effort into trying to bring this Israeli government, as fractious and difficult as it is, into more meaningful engagement towards a two-state solution, and throwing full weight behind a two-state solution, you will be addressing your concerns about Gaza, about relations with Egypt and about Israel’s position in the region more generally.

What is not going to work is continuing with the status quo, seeing the expansion of settlements eating into the viability of a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, or squeezing off resources to the Palestinian Authority either by the West in punishment for Hamas-Fatah reconciliation talks or by Israel for the same reason, by not making their tax deliveries. Stepping up the pressure on Palestine adds to the destabilisation of all parties involved and is very much against western interests.

Q34 Mike Gapes: And on the Egyptian elections, what are the implications?

Dr Rogan: What is clearly unrolling in Egypt is a second revolution, where having decapitated the Mubarak regime, they found it has grown a second head in the supreme command of the armed forces. The Egyptian people seemed yesterday to have decided that they would better fight to exclude the military from political power by voting and being active in parliamentary processes. They are now, it seems to me, trying to elect a Parliament that they can task with the job of writing the army out of the constitution, but that is going to be a very long-term battle for the new representatives of the Egyptian people.

What is so interesting is the way that even people who are disillusioned turned out to vote yesterday, because they felt it was their duty and because they thought it was using their political voice and empowering people to represent them. It is very clear that they see a battle going on to try to win the people’s freedom from the military, as they have done from the civilian Mubarak administration.

Q35 Mr Ainsworth: To use your word, what is behind the "dynamism" of the Arab League? I was surprised by their support for the no-fly zone against Libya, despite Gaddafi’s relatively isolated position. Now, they are pushing hard for change in Syria. What has happened? What do you think that is representative of?

Dr Rogan: It is a remarkable change to see the Arab League acting in concerted action and effectively. Those are not things you would ever have said about that particular regional organisation. I think it reflects the way in which wealthy Gulf states have decided to put their weight behind the Arab League and use the Arab League to try to advance the policies that they wish to pursue in this volatile moment-particularly Qatar, but also Saudi Arabia. Without the weight of those countries, which have the financial resources to give them disproportionate muscle in Arab affairs, the Arab League might not be able to take such decisive moves.

Their interest is also to deflect concern from what might be popular challenges to the legitimacy of the government, particularly in Saudi Arabia, and to keep the focus very much on certain hot spots such as Syria or Libya-keeping the Arab world engaging with those issues, but perhaps removing the Gulf states from the purview of change in 2011. But, whatever the reasons behind it, it has made a drastic change in the workings of the Arab League, and they clearly wish to be engaged as a dynamic partner in change.

Q36 Mr Ainsworth: So it is good old-fashioned conservatism-go forward slowly?

Dr Rogan: There are countries where the pace of change may come at a conservative rate. I think Saudis in general are happier with evolution than with revolution. That reflects a population that has a very high percentage who have a vested interest in the status quo, and to see the status quo thrown into disarray might put their access to their jobs, salaries, health care, kids’ schooling, housing and what-not in jeopardy.

Perhaps one part of the formula we should be considering is the way in which governments broaden support for their regimes through spending, which is what the Saudis and Omanis have been doing, but which is going to put real pressure on them to see the price of oil stay up. Do we wish to encourage these countries not to engage meaningfully in political reforms by making pay-outs, when the pay-outs mean that the price of oil has to stay at $100 or $130 a barrel? That is not in the West’s long-term interests, and I would argue that it is not in the interests of the oil-producing states themselves.

Should we instead be encouraging countries in the region openly to consider a broadening of political participation? The Sultan of Oman is by all accounts a very benign ruler, but he is not just the Sultan, I may have this wrong, but he is holding the foreign ministry, the interior ministry, the prime ministry and the defence ministry. There is room for devolution in the Sultanate of Oman without a radical revolution, but it should be coming, because I think the demands for change will not stop with the revolutionary republics. I really think it is something that is going to be felt across the region as a whole. We in the West do not wish to encourage our allies in the Gulf to try to defer that day, by the kind of spending that might put our energy policies in jeopardy through higher oil prices.

Chair: We could dwell for some time on the forces of conservatism, but we won’t do it now. John Stanley.

Q37 Sir John Stanley: Can you explain, in answer to the previous question, why you still have apparent faith in the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians? The whole history of the past 20 years has been the two-state solution negotiations effectively providing a very useful and convenient smokescreen for the Israeli government, behind which they have carried out, with relentless determination and conspicuous success, the ever-increasing de facto annexation of East Jerusalem and the water-bearing areas of the West Bank.

Dr Rogan: Sir John, I have been pressed by the Chairman to keep my answers brief. Your question could provoke a very long discussion. I will cut to the quick. The two-state solution remains the only solution that will satisfy both Israelis’ and Palestinians’ nationalisms. For the Israelis, the imperative to preserve a Jewish state in Israel is clearly being undermined by their own initiatives to encroach on territory that is so densely populated by Palestinians.

No matter how you cut it, you cannot stay a democracy and occupy other people and deny rights to the population that is living under your rule; nor can you drive them out by ethnic cleansing means. You want the land that comes with the people. They don’t want the people; you need a two-state solution. For the Palestinians, there are many who argue they would get a better set of rights and opportunities as Israeli citizens than they will as citizens of a Palestinian state, but they have aspired to statehood since the time of the British mandate, and that aspiration goes unfulfilled. If you look at the enthusiasm Palestinians showed just for the quixotic bid for membership of the United Nations, it brings home the point how much Palestinians aspire, even in such a small part of their country, to enjoy the legitimacy of statehood.

Given both the strong support and the imperative that Israelis and Palestinians show towards statehood, however difficult it now seems to us, for all the reasons you have outlined, I still think the two-state solution is the one most likely to lead to a long-term resolution between these peoples, to which I think all responsible parties should aspire.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed, Dr Rogan. I am pretty sure my colleagues would agree that we could listen to you for a lot longer, but time does not permit. Many thanks for coming along. This has been a very useful and interesting oversight and perspective.

Prepared 20th January 2012