The recent uprisings in the Middle East were at the top of the agenda at the meeting of the Group of 8 meeting of the wealthiest industrialized nations on Friday. The G-8 includes the United States, Japan, Canada, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia. Comparing the “potential in the Middle East” to the historic economic and social changes in Central and Eastern Europe that happened after the end of communism, the G-8 pledged $40 billion in new aid to Egypt and Tunisia, in the hope that shoring up their faltering economies could support their transition to democracy.
Individual G-8 members — some of whom are struggling with their own public debt — did not offer specific financial commitments, the Wall Street Journal notes. $10 billion is to come from the Persian Gulf countries of Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait. Over the next three years, more than $20 billion in aid is to come from international development banks such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, in which the G-8 nations are top shareholders. However, as ABC News points out, a closer look at the package from the banks reveals that “some aid is not all that different from previous money for the region” that was given to authoritarian rulers, rather than emerging new democracies.
Underscoring their concerns about the drawn-out and violent crises in Libya, Syria and Yemen, the G-8 leaders emphasized that there will be “strings attached” to the financial support; this is to be “contingent on social and economic reforms, such as strengthening transparency in government and encouraging private-sector development.” As ABC News notes,
The overall message from President Barack Obama and the other G-8 leaders meeting in this Normandy resort appeared to be warning autocratic regimes in the Arab world that they will be shut out of rich-country aid and investment, while new democracies are encouraged to open their economies.
The Wall Street Journal also comments:
The Arab Spring carries high stakes for the G-8 nations—the U.S., U.K., Japan, Canada, Russia, France, Germany and Italy. For Europeans, democracy and prosperity in the region could provide new growth opportunities and prevent a further flood of unwanted migrants. The U.S., after wars in the Middle East, sees an opportunity for homegrown revolutions to promise stability in the region.
…In the short term, world leaders said they want to stabilize Egypt and Tunisia economically and politically as both nations move toward elections this year, to ensure they don’t revert to authoritarian practices. They are also laying the groundwork for new policies to support democracy to encourage protesters fighting for new rights in Libya, Syria, Yemen and other nations across the region.
The agreement was dubbed the “Deauville Partnership” after the French seaside town in which the G-8 leaders are meeting.
The G-8 also made a unanimous statement calling for the ouster of Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi of Libya, Russia having finally abandoned its support of him:
“Gadhafi and the Libyan government have failed to fulfill their responsibility to protect the Libyan population and have lost all legitimacy,” the G-8′s final communique said. “He has no future in a free, democratic Libya. He must go.” Officials said Russia had been invited to assume a role as mediator in the conflict between Col. Gadhafi and those looking for his removal. “This doesn’t mean that Monsieur Gadhafi can go back to barracks,” said Mr. Sarkozy. “He has to go.”
Mr. Sarkozy added that he had received an invitation from Libya’s National Transitional Council, the main opposition group to Col. Gadhafi, to visit Benghazi, a port city where the Council is based. Mr. Sarkozy said he intended to go, but would prefer to visit Benghazi with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who commented that “President Sarkozy is always full of interesting ideas.”
G-8 leaders also agreed to increase pressure on Syria, saying that “further measures” would be sought should the Syrian government continue its violent crackdown of its citizens.
The leaders also supported President Obama’s call for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. However, they “conspicuously left out a mention of his call for negotiations to be based on the 1967 borders,” as the New York Times observes. Stephen Harper, the newly elected conservative prime minister of Canada, had stated that he was opposed to references to any borders in the G-8 statement.
Photo by pfala.