Category: International Politics


If you used the toilet today, you are luckier than 2.5 billion people worldwide. If you had a drink of clean water, you are more fortunate than 780,000,000 people on our planet, today.

 

March 22nd is World Water Day, and November 19th is World Toilet Day.

Take a few minutes today to think about water, please.

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Yes, it’s confirmed, President Barack Obama has been returned to the White House for another four years as leader of the free world, and with an impressive majority.

I’ll confess, I thought it was going to be a lot closer than it turned out to be. Lets look at why.

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I’m glad I was already mid-editing my LinkedIn profile. I have a new honour to add – I just won the Nobel Peace Prize.

Yes, it’s official. The European Union has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2012.

Of course, much like when Obama won, this has met with derision from many. I’ll admit, the announcement bemused me for a moment. But I do believe that this prize is merited.

The Prize is awarded to the person or organisation that has “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses”. Most EU Council meetings have at least an element of this – they are strongly akin to the Peace Congresses of the pre-war period…and to see 27 national leaders, all of whom lead countries which have previously been embittered by conflict with the others, in peaceful negotiation over their disputes, as opposed to armed conflict, is surely a sight for sore eyes.

Europe – a continent at war for centuries – is now in a state of perpetual peace. Because of the EU and its forerunner, the European Coal and Steel Community, war on this continent is unthinkable.

The EU’s normative agenda has spread from those original six Member States, down the Iberian peninsula into former fascist states, across Central and Eastern Europe’s former Communist dictatorships, and now is working its way across the war-torn Balkans.

As Liberal Democrat MEP Ed McMillan-Scott said,

“The Nobel Peace Prize for the EU is recognition of the transformative power of the European project that brought a war-torn continent back to prosperity and through its enlargement process helped to spread democracy and freedom to the former Soviet bloc and is a model for reform worldwide.

 

“MEPs now have a decisive say on the EU’s international trade agreements and democracy and human rights are a cornerstone of our approach.

 

“In the latest survey of 25,000 European citizens by Eurobarometer, spreading democracy and human rights across the world was seen to be the most important task of the European Union.

 

“We must take this award as an encouragement to stand up for our values and redouble our efforts. We are grateful to the Nobel Committee on behalf of our constituents who must share in this award. At least we will be able to collect the award, unlike other prize winners in the past such as Andrei Sakharov, Aun San Suu Kyi and most recently Liu Xiabao.”

David Cameron gave his keynote speech at the Conservative party conference today. There’s a transcript here. It wasn’t a bad speech – not his best, but reasonable. But some of it annoyed me… Cameron showed a strong belief in standing together against globalization, and then expected plaudits when he shouted down such an approach in the European Council.

And the Olympics showed us something else.

Whether our athletes were English, Scottish, Welsh or from Northern Ireland…

….they draped themselves in one flag.

Now, there’s one person who didn’t like that…

…and he’s called Alex Salmond.

I’m going to see him on Monday to sort that referendum on independence by the end of 2014.

There are many things I want this coalition to achieve but what could matter more than saving our United Kingdom…

…let’s say it: we’re better together and we’ll rise together – so let’s fight that referendum with everything we’ve got.

Contrast that with…

Here’s something else this party’s done in government.

Last December I was at a European Council in Brussels.

It was three in the morning, there was a treaty on the table that was not in Britain’s interests…

…and twenty five people around that table were telling me to sign it.

But I did something that no other British leader has ever done before…

…I said no – Britain comes first – and I vetoed that EU treaty.

We’re doing big, Conservative things.

“We’re better together, and we’ll rise together” compared with “Britain comes first”. Anyone noticing a double-standard?

Those of you who’ve read me regularly will know I’m vehemently pro-European. But what bothers me most about the europhobe camp is the fact that they so clearly ignore their own arguments when it suits them. Apparently, we’re all better together. And I believe it’s true. We’re living in the era of globalisation. As Cameron said “We are in a global race today. And that means an hour of reckoning for countries like ours. Sink or swim. Do or decline.” That’s true. It’s why I can’t truly support Scottish or Welsh independence, though I am a strong believe in localism and regional autonomy. As barriers come down, as the world gets smaller, the small get squeezed out.

Even Britain. We currently punch well above our weight. We assume “[t]hat we can earn our living as a major industrial country…and we will always remain one.” But “[i]t has fallen to us to say – we cannot assume that any longer. ” I agree with Cameron thus far. But then why is he acting so negatively towards our membership of the world’s largest market?

If Britain is to compete in the new globalised world, Britain needs to make friends, not enemies. The very fact that Cameron was in a situation where it was 26 vs 1, shows a lack of leadership and strategy. It used to be that Sweden and the Netherlands, Poland and Spain, could be counted on to support British free-market interests. When Cameron has alienated even then, it is a tragic day for Britain.

It isn’t even true that the old countries are on their way down. If we take a look at the following graph, the Guardian has made it look like our export market is ever increasing in the developing world, countries such as the BRICS of India, China, and Russia. Which is true, our exports there are increasing, and faster than to most European countries or Commonwealth states. But it takes a second-look to notice that our trade with China and India combined is still less than our exports to Ireland. Add in Russia and Hong Kong, and it’s still only equal to our exports to France. And despite Cameron’s attitude, our trade is still growing with the vast majority of Europe.

UK Trade exports graphic

And while Cameron argues that the Old World is “sclerotic, over-regulated, spending money on unaffordable welfare systems, huge pension bills, unreformed public services”, that ignores that Asia is building welfare states across the continent. The demographic crisis that is going to hit China necessitates at least some form of a welfare state. It’s true that they’re not very regulated – but that’s not always a great thing. Remember, regulation is what stops our children’s toys being slathered with poisonous lead paint.

It may be true that while we are, at present, having a tough time across Europe “on the other side of the world, China is moving so fast it’s creating a new economy the size of Greece every three months” it doesn’t matter to us if they aren’t buying what we have to sell.

As László Andor, EU Social Affairs Commissioner said today in an interview with the FT, Cameron’s attempts to curtail the right of Europeans to live and work in Britain merely serves to damage our economy. Why should we close our doors to the best and brightest, when instead they could contribute to our economy. When the UK economy benefits to the tune of £90bn per year from levy-free trade throughout the 27 country European Union, and yet only pays an £8bn contribution to the EU for access… I cannot find a better example of “we’re better together, and we’ll rise together”. I just wish Cameron would wake up to this.

I recently did a post on the nature of Liberal Islam for the Liberal Youth blog, The Libertine. Unfortunately, it may prove not to come true… it looks like Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, my favourite candidate in Egypt’s Presidential elections, has not made it through to the run-off. Still, he would’ve been good… let’s wait a few years.

Here it is at the original Libertine site : Liberal Islam.

Whoever sleeps full while his neighbour is hungry is not a believer.

The Prophet Muhammed PBUH

While the Liberal Democrats in Britain, MoDem in France, and Germany’s FDP are going through tough times, another strand of liberalism may be taking centre stage in an unlikely venue…

In Egypt, a liberal Islamist candidate has taken a major step towards the head of the race to be President. Previously in second place, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, a former leader of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, has been endorsed by the ultraconservative, islamist, Salafi preaching group, Salafi Call, and its sister party Al Nour. Salafis are effectively a kind of Muslim Puritans, and are even more hard-line than the Muslim Brotherhood’s brand of Islamism. Al Nour won around a quarter of seats in Egypt’s Parliamentary elections; the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party won almost half. Left-liberal and nationalist liberal blocs won 8-9% of the vote each.

Wait, ultraconservatives endorsing Islamists? It doesn’t sound ‘liberal’, but Aboul Fotouh’s brand of Islam is one of the most liberal in the region, strongly believing in personal liberty. His understanding of how Islamic law addresses individual freedom and economic fairness already means many liberals in Egypt back him.

He is, in many ways, a nationalist, believing in a strong Egypt. But he’s also said that “Islam does not discriminate based on gender, religion, colour and the new constitution must not either. The appointment of people to office or other government jobs must be based on merit and capability and not gender or religion or even political inclination.”

His platform is very liberal for Egypt,

  • He will appoint a vice-president and fill 50% of all administrative posts with people under the age of 45.
  • Women and Coptic Christians should have the right to run for Parliament.
  • Health insurance is a ‘basic right’.
  • Introduce a minimum standard income.
  • Islamic restrictions on alcohol should not be imposed on non-Muslims (hoping to attract tourism back to the country).
  • Re-equip the military without depending on US funding.
  • Allow re-trials for all those arrested under the brutal SCAF military reign that has existed since ex-President Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in the Arab Spring.

Just like Nick Clegg, he has four key goals – to promote freedom in Egypt, to promote the value of justice, to strengthen education and scientific research, and to open Egypt up to investment.

The 61-year old doctor and head of the Arab Medical Union is well respected in Egypt. He first came to prominence as a student leader in the ’70s, even debating Anwar Sadat, the President himself. His student activities make him well-known to the Salafis, and he is close to their leaders. He was later arrested by Sadat. And then by Mubarak.

He was forced to leave the Muslim Brotherhood when he declared his intention to run for the Presidency. At the time, the Muslim Brotherhood insisted they would not stand a candidate, for fear of alarming other parties who fear they would dominate the political scene. They have since changed their mind.

This is perhaps why the Salafis are coming out in favour of Aboul Fotouh. The Muslim Brotherhood is by far the largest and best organised party in Egypt. While the Salafis have a highly decentralised grass-roots network, the Muslim Brotherhood is as monolithic as our Tories. The Salafis disapprove of this internal rigidity.

Salafis are no friends of the Muslim Brotherhood. While they believe in imposing far harsher restrictions on individual liberty, they acknowledge that the country is not yet ripe. They fear that if the Muslim Brotherhood dominates the Presidency as well as Parliament, their brand of Islamism will be snuffed out. At least if Aboul Fotouh leads the Presidency, his liberalism and belief in a separation of religion and politics, will allow them the freedom to preach. We can only hope that Egyptians will embrace Aboul Fotouh’s liberal Islam, and not the hard-line Salafis.

‘Liberal Islam’ should surprise no one. It is far from a contradiction in terms as some would have you believe. Islam and liberalism can perfectly co-exist. Ataturk separated the Turk’s Islam and the secular state institutions. Then there are liberal Muslims like Javed Ahmad Ghamidi who believe that the Qur’an and Sunnah are liberal texts, if correctly interpreted, or Abd al-Raziq who believes that the Qur’an is silent on certain matters to which liberalism can be applied – for example, the Qur’an never judges the forms of government, so a democracy is perfectly Islamic. Even supposedly hardline positions, such as a total rejection of the Hadith can lead to liberalism, as it allows far greater leniency of interpretation.

Fethullah Gülen goes so far as to say that “no one should condemn another for being a member of a religion or scold him for being an atheist” and “no one should suppress the progress of women through the clothes they wear.”.

Sharia can also be interpreted liberally – while it is true that for Muslims, Sharia is the word of God, Islamic jurisprudence has always allowed for pluralism. ‘Fiqh’ means ‘understanding’ and all that what most people think of as ‘Sharia law’ is actually one school of fiqh, one particular, human, fallible, understanding of God’s divine and infallible Word. As such, there are multiple schools of fiqh, Any country with ‘Sharia’ law, supports one of these schools.

The Muslim Brotherhood itself, in order to deal with the issue of having to choose a school of fiqh to support, and thus alienate all others in the country, has chosen the middle, liberal, path – ‘to each his own’, believing that their state should not support one single fiqh, nor Islam over Christianity or Judaism. Religious pluralism could still persist in Egypt, even with the rise of Islamism. Liberal ideas are not dead.

Liberal Islam does exist and is developing in Egypt, in a form – but it is fragile, as is all liberalism. Assailed by extremist positions all around, liberalism must try and find its own place, its own message, and its own followers. Egypt’s liberals need to be supported by their brothers and sisters around the world, to show Muslim’s fearful of a secularist attack on their faith, that liberalism guarantees their right to their faith, no matter what it may be, and the Qur’an itself can be a liberal text. Aboul Fotouh is not a dead-cert for the Presidency, but his unifying brand of politics, his liberal credentials and position, make him the one we should root for.

If Liberal Islam takes hold in Egypt, this can bode well for the whole Middle East. Best of luck to  Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh.

You might also like to read my post on Why the Liberal Democrats are like the Muslim Brotherhood.

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