Gary's News and views

Gary Streeter MP for South West Devon

Gary writes a weekly article which appears in the Plympton Plymstock and Ivybridge News in South West Devon. The articles are published here.


Friday, 15 April 2011

Last week (leaving Wednesday and returning Monday) I was in Tunis and Cairo, assessing how the cross party organisation that I now chair, the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, can help those the people in Tunisia and Egypt establish a new democracy.
In Tunisia, the revolution was largely inspired by young people who had reached the point of no return with their corrupt ruling family. There was a tangible feeling of hope in the air. They have learnt the art of demonstrating and every day the streets of the capital are full of protestors. They have elections for a Constituent Assembly on 24th July 2011 which will appoint an interim government and thrash out a new constitution, with proper elections for a new Parliament following a year or so later. In the past 3 months over 60 new political parties have been formed, so it is fast becoming a crowded field. This is normal in new democracies.
It is not possible to do democracy without political parties. Many of the new parties seek our help in drawing up a manifesto, settling policies, sharpening a clear message and communicating it to the people. There are real concerns that the extreme Islamists are better organised and might dominate. It is in our national interest to help the new forces of liberal democracy succeed. Although a small country, if Tunisia came good, it would be a beacon for the entire region.
Egypt is a far larger country of 80 million people and the old guard seem to have hung around more effectively. They have announced elections to a brand new Parliament in September and Presidential Elections two months later. We shared an exhilarating evening with talented young activists enjoying their first taste of political engagement. They are also keen to learn from Westminster parties the techniques of honing and communicating a message. Once again the Muslim Brotherhood is the most organised. As in Tunisia, new parties are being formed and already discussions are underway strategic alliances and mergers.
This surge to democracy was started with them and will be completed by them, but many of the protagonists are asking for help from those who have been at this slightly longer (800 years in our case!).
A footnote: both countries are predominately Muslim, but their biggest fear is Islamic extremists taking over with their medieval agenda. In the Arab world, as in the UK, most liberal Muslims do not want that.

posted by Gary @ 17:44