6 Implications for British foreign
policy elsewhere in the region |
Reform in other MENA and Gulf states
In February 2011 protests broke out in Yemen against
the rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh, who had ruled for over
30 years. Hundreds of people were killed in violence between security
forces and demonstrators. President Saleh repeatedly promised
to step down but backed out of deals brokered by the Gulf Cooperation
Council to remove him from power. In June, he was injured in an
attack on his compound and flown to Saudi Arabia for treatment.
He returned to Yemen in October, but under international pressure
eventually agreed to step down in return for immunity, handing
power to his deputy Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi in November 2011 and
flying to the US for medical treatment. Mr Hadi led an interim
national unity government until February 2012, when he was elected
president in an uncontested election.
Protests took place in Bahrain between February and
April 2011, which saw protestors occupying 'Pearl roundabout',
the central square in the capital, and demanding greater freedom
and political participation. The protests in Bahrain are widely
considered to be more sectarian in nature than those elsewhere,
as the Shia majority protested against the rule of a Sunni minority.
The unrest was forcibly put down by the authorities, with controversial
assistance from Saudi Arabian forces. There has been public and
international outcry about the abuse of arrested protestors, and
allegations of torture and deaths in custody. The arrests of medical
personnel for treating protestors were particularly criticised.
A number of opposition figures were arrested and sentenced. The
King agreed to an International Commission to investigate the
way the authorities dealt with the protestors, which reported
in October 2011.
King Abdullah responded to protests in Jordan by
announcing reforms, including a move toward elected, rather than
appointed, cabinets. He has also announced changes to the constitution
based on the principles of a parliamentary democracy. Elections
are due before the end of 2012, but ongoing disagreements about
changes to electoral law have caused confusion and delay, and
some parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood, have threatened
a boycott. The King has also spoken out about corruption.
King Mohammed VI announced a programme of political
reforms resulting in a new constitution on 1 July 2011. This has
strengthened the power of parliament, allowing for a Prime Minister
to be selected from the largest parliamentary party, strengthened
human rights protections, and enshrined the independence of the
judiciary. The King is described as the "supreme arbiter"
of political and institutional life and remains head of the Ministerial
Council, but the FCO describes the reforms as "an important
173. The Arab Spring revolutions have had repercussions
for the UK's foreign policy across the region. The FCO told us
that although the full impact of the Arab Spring could not yet
be addressed, "it is already clear that it has irrevocably
changed political and social landscapes in the Arab world, impacting
on UK policy in the wider region."
We asked the Minister for his comments on accusations that the
UK is not implementing a consistently 'value based' human rights
policy, and has been inconsistent in its responses to protests
across the region. The Minister defended government policy, stating
Each of these countries is different.[...] The values
may be the same, but the way in which we work must depend on the
circumstances of the place. Almost without exception, no two places
have given rise to exactly the same set of answers to help deal
with the problems."
However, the consistency of the Government's policies
has come under particular scrutiny with regard to those states
where uprisings have been met with force, as they were in Syria
174. While the achievements of pro-democratic
forces in overthrowing authoritarian rule in Tunisia, Egypt and
Libya are celebrated, there is an ongoing and escalating conflict
in Syria. The Syrian government's decision to respond to protestors
with violent force has posed a major challenge to the international
community over the last year. The country has descended into conflict
between government and opposition forces, with the government
standing accused of multiple human rights violations and responsibility
for the deaths of thousands of civilians. The verification of
casualties is extremely difficult and the UN stopped providing
estimates in December 2011 when the death toll stood at 5,000.
Estimates by various organisations now put the figure somewhere
between 9,000 and 16,000 lives lost in the conflict. 
The UK has been outspoken in its condemnation of the Assad regime
and active in coordinating an international response, including
through EU sanctions, and a Friends of Syria contact group. On
1 March 2012, the UK withdrew its Ambassador to Syria "on
security grounds" and closed its Embassy.
175. Efforts to reach consensus in the UN on
Syria have proved significantly more difficult than for Libya.
Russia and China have blocked a number of attempts to achieve
a UN resolution condemning the Syrian government's actions, although
they have both endorsed Kofi Annan's 'Six point plan' for the
region, and for a UN observer mission to Syria. The Foreign Secretary
criticised a veto by China and Russia of a draft resolution supported
by the UK in February, calling it:
a grave error of judgement by the Governments of
China and Russia. There is no need to mince words. Russia and
China have twice vetoed reasonable and necessary action by the
United Nations Security Council. Such vetoes are a betrayal of
the Syrian people.
176. Many observers attribute Russian and Chinese
reluctance to allow UN resolutions on Syria in part to a sense
of betrayal over the perceived "stretching" of the Libya
resolutions not just to protect civilians but to facilitate regime
change in Libya.
At the time of the UN Security Council Resolution 1973 on Libya,
then-Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called it "defective and
flawed" and stated that it would allow a "crusade"
in Libya. In September 2011, then-President Dmitry Medvedev said
"we believe that the mandate granted under Resolution 1973
on Libya was exceeded. We would not want to see the same thing
happen in Syria."
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has echoed this view,
stating that "The international community unfortunately did
take sides in Libya and we would never allow the Security Council
to authorise anything similar to what happened in Libya,"
adding that a second Libya "would be a disaster for the Arab
world and for world politics".
177. However, criticism of the Russian position
has grown ever louder, and many observers have attributed Russia's
refusal to allow criticism of Syria in the UN as having more to
do with Syria's long-standing status as Russia's only major ally
in the region. The continued provision of Russian arms to the
Syrian government has elicited further criticism, including public
condemnation by the US Secretary of State.
178. Nevertheless, there is also considerably
less enthusiasm internationally for a Libya-style intervention
in Syria, because it is perceived to be a challenge of even greater
complexity, and with much greater consequences for the region.
Doubts also exist about the coherence of the opposition to the
Assad regime. Following the suspension of the UN observer mission
to Syria and a general acknowledgement that the Annan plan had
stalled, a Syria Action Group meeting in Geneva on 30 June 2012
agreed a communiqué which:
- identified steps and measures
by the parties to secure full implementation of the six-point
plan and UNSCRs 2042 and 2043, including an immediate cessation
of violence in all its forms;
- agreed on guidelines and principles
for a political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations
of the Syrian people, and
- agreed on actions they would take to implement
the above in support of the Joint Special Envoy's efforts to facilitate
a Syrian-led political process.
The Foreign Secretary commented that this was the
result of a compromise and did not contain everything the UK had
wanted, but it is "a step forward that is worth having. It
is the first time that the P5 and other key players have spelled
out in detail what transition should look like, including a transitional
unity government involving the opposition and based on the principle
of mutual consent. I welcome the fact that Russia and China have
signed up to this."
and loss of life in Syria is unacceptable and we welcome the Government's
efforts to reach a consensus on international action both within
and outside the UN. However, we note with concern that the consequences
of the perceived 'stretching' of the terms of the UN resolutions
on Libya are now being visited on attempts to secure a UN Security
Council resolution which takes a tougher line on Syria. There
can be no certainty, however, that a less interventionist approach
in Libya would necessarily have led to readier support from Russia
or China for vigorous condemnation of President Assad's actions.
On balance, therefore, we do not believe that the diplomatic stalemate
over Syria should be seen as too high a price to pay for the scale
of intervention in Libya.
179. Bahrain's government also responded with
force against its protestors between February and April 2011 and
almost 100 protestors are thought to have died in the clashes.
The government succeeded in quelling the protests with some controversial
assistance from Saudi Arabia. Bahrain's treatment of the protestors
was a particular dilemma for the UK, which counts Bahrain as an
important ally in the region. The FCO stated that "the subsequent
sentencing of opposition figures, the reports of deaths in custody,
the allegations of torture, the denial of medical treatment and
the censorship of the media are extremely troubling."
Bahrain has since been heavily criticised by NGOs for failing
to introduce reforms, and continuing detention of human rights
activists. The Minister agreed that progress was too slow, but
he praised "the most extraordinary independent commission,
which reported on it in public, in a manner previously unknown,
I think, in the region. [
] we can see a reform process that
we are engaged in."
that the Government is right to support peaceful reform efforts
where possible in Bahrain, but it must also be clear in its public
criticism of human rights violations there if it is to avoid charges
180. Although it did not result in large scale
protests in every country in the region, the Arab Spring caused
a number of governments in the region to institute reforms. The
kingdoms of Jordan and Morocco have each announced a programme
of reforms that includes some form of elections and strengthening
of parliaments. Algeria's President Bouteflika has lifted its
State of Emergency laws and embarked on reforms. The FCO told
us that it is "still too early to assess whether declared
reform programmes will deliver tangible change," but the
UK is providing support to reforming countries through the Arab
Partnership and multi-lateral channels.
244 Ev 62 Back
See, for example, "U.N. alarmed at rising death toll in Syria,
Homs situation", Reuters, 19 June 2012, via website
HC Deb, 6 Feb 2012, Cols 23-24 Back
See, for instance, "Putin rejects intervention but fears
civil war in Syria", New York Times, 2 June 2012. Back
Transcript of interview with Euronews TV Channel, 9 September
2011, via RT website (www.rt.com) Back
Transcript of interview with ABC Lateline programme, 31 January
2012, via ABC website (www.abc.net.au) Back
"US accuses Russia over Syria helicopters", Financial
Times, 13 June 2012, via FT website (www.ft.com) Back
Foreign and Commonwealth Office, "Syria Action Group meeting
in Geneva", Press release, 30 June 2012, via FCO website
Ev 81 Back
Q 147 Back
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