To mark the first anniversary, the FCO tells the story of the Arab Spring from the UK's perspective. We track some of our key diplomatic action, consular assistance, speeches, statements, blogs, visits, upscaling of the Arab Partnership and project milestones.
Created by ddgdipity on 19/01/2012
Last updated: 27/01/12 at 18:44
Tags: Arab Spring Foreign Office UK Foreign Secretary Libya Syria Egypt Yemen Bahrain Tunisia
A year after the Egypt revolution began, UK Ambassador in Egypt James Watt reflects on his experiences and his hopes for the future of Egypt and the Egyptian people.
2011 was one of the busiest and most demanding the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has ever faced.
Nineteen diplomatic staff received recognition in the New Year's Honours List.
Honours were awarded to FCO staff based in London and overseas in recognition of exceptional crisis-related work in delivering the UK response to the Arab Spring, particularly in helping British nationals in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Bahrain and Malta.
British Ambassador to Jordan Peter Millett blogs about the events in the Arab world in 2011. By watching developments unfold and living in the Middle East at the time, he drew out some important points and challenges for the future of people in the Middle East.
Minister for the Middle east Alistair Burt visited Bahrain and discussed recent developments, in particular the Bahrain Independent Commission of Inquiry. he made clear the importance of swiftly implementing the report’s recommendations, and finding ways that the British Government could provide practical assistance. He urged all groups in Bahrain, in particular the opposition, to engage fully to seize this moment for reconciliation and broader reform.
Foreign Secretary William Hague welcomed the signing of the Gulf Cooperation Council initiative which commits Yemen to a transition of power within 90 days.
It came after months of deterioration of the situation in Yemen, and gives hope to the Yemeni people that change in their country is possible.
The United Nation's Third Committee (Human Rights) passed a UK drafted resolution on the ongoing repression in Syria. It sent a signal of united condemnation of the Syrian regime’s systematic human rights abuses. It called on the Syrian government to end the appalling violence and implement the Arab League’s plan of action without delay.
Through the Arab Partnership and in its bid to promote good governance and the rule of law across the MENA region, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is helping to establish a Fellowship programme through its The Arab Partnership programme. The project works with a range of legal professionals from the region, including the judiciary, prosecutor’s office, bar, legal aid, and court administration. The first group of 15 Fellows from Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon visited the UK this November for a three week residential programme to improve their leadership skills and receive expert support in designing action plans to strengthen the rule of law in their respective countries.
Louise Hopper, Political Officer in Tripoli wrote her blog, "Here come the girls" about the strong role women played in the 17 February Libyan revolution. Just like Libya’s men, many of them have stories of extraordinary courage and sacrifice. She was lucky enough to meet some of them –young and old, ‘liberal’ to more conservative – over the last few weeks. They inspired her to write this blog.
On 23 October, the Foreign Secretary, Defence Secretary and Development Secretary made statements on the declaration of National Liberation of Libya. This represented a historic victory for the people of Libya and a decisive moment in their struggle for freedom.
the Foreign Secretary paid tribute to Libya’s revolution and referred to the opportunities that lie ahead: “We welcome the NTC’s confirmation that they will form an inclusive Transitional Government and work towards democratic elections. The Libyan people now have the chance to work together in a new political process, leading to a pluralistic and open society under the rule of law.”
Foreign Secretary William Hague talked about the significance of the first ever elections to take place in Tunisia. People looked to Tunisia to lead the way, as it did when the Arab Spring began. That is why these elections were so important.
Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign Secretary William Hague gave statements following the death of Colonel Qadhafi in Libya.
The Prime Minister said that "people in Libya have an even greater chance now of building themselves a strong and democratic future."
British Ambassador to Syria Simon Collis publishes his high-profile blog on the situation in Syria: 'The truth is what big brother says it is.' It shone the spotlight on Syrian human rights abuses. His blog received the most hits out of all FCO blogs.
He explains that he wanted to share some personal impressions about what’s happening. Some thoughts about why it’s happening. And maybe to spark some debate about what comes next and what can be done.
The Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Sarkozy visited Libya. They were the most senior Western leaders to visit the north African state since the Qadhafi regime fell. They were accompanied by Foreign Secretary William Hague.
They met members of Libya’s government, including its head Mustafa Abdul Jalil and chairman Abdul Jalil.
The Prime Minister announced a further package of UK assistance to support the Libyan-led process to becoming free, democratic and inclusive.
He pledged that Britain would:
- deploy, for six months, UK military team to advise the NTC on security
- make available Libyan assets totalling approximately £600m to the interim authorities
- make 50 places available in UK specialist hospitals for critically ill Libyans
- provide £600,000 for clearing landmines across Libya
- give £1m to fund civilian experts to assist in weapons disposal
- fund additional communications equipment totalling £60,000 for Libyan police in Benghazi
- provide forensic advice, if requested, to help gather and preserve evidence of human rights abuses
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's speech on the Arab Spring delivered at the British Council in London. He explains why the Arab Spring matters to the UK:
First and foremost, because we believe in the same things these activists are fighting for: freedom, self-determination, human rights, the chance for people who work hard to succeed. Those are the values of the open society, where power is dispersed, government is representative, opportunity is shared.
Second, we also care because stability and prosperity over there feed directly into jobs and security over here. Right now, there are over 150,000 British citizens living and working in North Africa and the Middle East and thousands of British companies operating there. We exported around £24.5 billion worth of goods and services to the region last year alone, more than to India and China combined.
Third, the Arab Spring also matters to us in terms of our security. North African and Middle Eastern states are essential to preventing Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons or meddling in its neighbours affairs. And to finding a lasting, two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict.
As part of the Arab Partnership Initiative, the UK is working to help young Jordanians establish new high-tech businesses. Through a partnership with the seed-investment company Oasis 500, 200 young entrepreneurs from across the country will attend business 'training workshops' focusing on the Information and Communications Technology (ICT), mobile and digital sectors. The UK government is funding another six waves of training with the aim of further stimulating youth (15-24 year olds) employment in the Kingdom, which currently stands at only 73% and is a major source of frustration for the younger generation.
This next wave of training will see training workshops taking place outside the capital for the first time, where job opportunities are even thinner on the ground. Ahmed Muhammed from Jordan’s second city Irbid explains. “Getting a place at the training workshops is a dream come true. I know I have the skills and the passion to launch a company. All I needed was this helping hand.”
Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt visited Egypt to witness where this extraordinary revolution was heading. He had the opportunity to stand in Tahrir Square and hear people discussing a whole range of domestic political issues.
He also discussed UK support to Egypt. The UK is continuing to work through the UK’s Arab Partnership initiative, which is designed to assist the people of Egypt in capacity building.
The UK is also looking at ways it can help develop Egypt’s economy. The UK is the largest single foreign direct investor in Egypt.
The Libya Contact Group meeting in Istanbul decided “to deal with the National Transitional Council (NTC) as the legitimate governing authority in Libya”. Soon after, the UK declared that the United Kingdom recognised and would deal with the National Transitional Council as the sole governmental authority in Libya.
In line with this decision the Foreign Secretary summoned the Libyan Charge d’Affaires to the FCO on 27 July and informed him that he and other regime diplomats from the Qadhafi regime must leave the UK. The UK no longer recognised them as the representatives of the Libyan Government, and invited the NTC to appoint a new Libyan diplomatic envoy to take over the Libyan Embassy in London.
Foreign Secretary William Hague was the first Foreign Minister to visit Libya on 4 June for talks with the National Transitional Council. He was then able to give a first hand account of the situation on the ground and took part in a public question and answer session on Twitter.
Questions were submitted to the Foreign Secretary using the hashtag #askFS
The Foreign Secretary continued further Q&A sessions on the Arab Spring through social media over the next few months.
He also discussed the Arab Spring and what political freedom could mean for the people of the region in a video blog.
Mass protests erupted in Syria on 15 March. The UK continued to condemn the ongoing violence and called for it to stop.
The British Government has led the way in introducing European Union measures against the Syrian regime, including against President Assad. On May 17, the EU put 13 Syrian officials on its sanctions list. The measures, including asset freezes and travel bans, are part of a package of sanctions, including an arms embargo.
On May 23, the EU imposed sanctions on those responsible, including Assad himself, along with nine other senior Syrian officials. The next day, Switzerland followed suit.
To date, there have been 11 rounds of EU sanctions. The EU sent a strong signal that it would bring pressure to bear on those responsible and would suspend co-operation with Syria in a range of areas. The EU measures will only be reversed when there is a change of direction and accountability for recent events.
During the height of the Arab Spring, Foreign Secretary William Hague addressed the Lord Mayor's Banquet in London. He said:
"We would use Britain's diplomatic weight in the world to support a new relationship with countries of the Middle East and North Africa. We have already begun this work ourselves through our new Arab Partnership Initiative on democratic and social reform, which we intend to expand. And when the G8 Summit countries meet in France this month we will call for a new plan to coordinate and expand international financial assistance to the region."
From May-June, the FCO has hosted a series of “Eyewitness” meetings, which sought to improve our understanding of the ongoing situation in Libya by focusing on particular regions and vulnerable groups. These included, in turn, Tripoli, Misrata, the Western Mountains, and the effect of the conflict on women and children. The events allowed ordinary Libyans who had witnessed Qadhafi’s atrocities to speak to FCO Minister Alistair Burt, government officials, NGOs and UK and Arab journalists.
Following the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Foreign Secretary William Hague visited Egypt for talks with Egyptian officials, activists and business leaders on supporting Egypt during its transition to a democratic and stable state. He said "the success of the Egyptian transition is critical to that of the Arab Spring. The Egyptian people have led the way."
The Contact Group was announced at the London Conference on Libya to co-ordinate support from the International community for the people of Libya. The first Libya Contact Group meeting in Doha, Qatar was co-chaired by the Foreign Secretary and the Qatari Prime Minister. The meeting:
- reiterated the international community’s unity and commitment to implementing UNSCRs 1970 and 1973;
- sent a clear message that Qadhafi has lost legitimacy and must allow the Libyan people to choose their own future;
- was a focal point for contacts with Libyans and take forward further planning to support a Libyan-led political process in line with the principles set out by the Interim National Council;
- supported humanitarian needs and planning for the rebuilding of Libya;
The Foreign Secretary convened the London Conference on Libya. The conference discussed the situation in Libya with UK allies and partners and took stock of the implementation of UN Security Council Resolutions 1970 and 1973. It considered the humanitarian needs of the Libyan people and identified ways to support the people of Libya in their aspirations for a better future.
As the situation in Libya continued to deteriorate, the United Nations Security Council agreed resolution 1973 on 17 March which authorised "all necessary measures to protect civilians."
UN Security Council resolution 1973:
• Called for the establishment of an immediate ceasefire
• Imposed a No Fly Zone to help protect civilians;
• Increased the range of sanctions on Qadhafi’s regime
UNSCR 1973 was an expression of the resolve that the world could not accept Gaddafi's brutality against his own people. The UK played a leading role in its drafting and adoption.
Preceding this, over the weekend of 26th and 27th February, at Britain’s instigation, the UN Security Council agreed Resolution 1970. It condemned the brutality and referred the situation in Libya to the International Criminal Court. Wide ranging sanctions were introduced with the threat of further action. There was also unprecedented criticism of Qadhafi’s actions at the League of Arab States and African Union.
In March, Libya became the first country to be suspended from the Human Rights Council. Gaddafi’s regime ignored all of this.
Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a speech to the National Assembly in Kuwait which set out UK policy towards the Middle East. His speech reiterated the core themes from the Foreign Secretary's speeches from 2010.
The Prime Minister urged political and economic reform at this "precious moment of opportunity" for the region.
Protests began in Libya on 15 February . The security and well being on British nationals affected was our absolute priority. This was a consular crisis effort on an unprecedented scale. More than 350 FCO staff joined the consular and political efforts and helped more than 600 British nationals leave Libya. This included over 50 staff who were deployed to Libya or Valletta to work alongside our Embassy teams. Of these, the majority stepped forward as volunteers to ramp up our overall capacity and support their colleagues. They did so above and beyond their normal day jobs.
British Deputy Ambassador to Egypt Thom Reilly recorded his eye witness account of the start of the uprising. He records how the protests turned violent, the role he played in the consular effort and the fall of Ben Ali.
Foreign Secretary William Hague also talked about the political and consular situations in a video blog.
Foreign Secretary William Hague announced £5million for the Arab Partnership initiative - a programme that had been in development for over a year. It will support economic and political development across the Middle East and North Africa over the next four years. It was developed as a response to the limited opportunities for political, social and economic participation in the Arab world that contribute to long-term instability and undermine security and prosperity. It builds on longstanding UK work in this area.
Foreign Secretary William Hague visited Tunisia and Jordan as part of his regional tour to support the UK's vital interests in the region and help develop more stable and democratic societies. He pledged the UK’s support for the democratic aspirations of the people of Tunisia and their desire for greater economic development and a more open political system.
Anti-government protests in Egypt began on 25 January. It soon turned violent. The Foreign Office's primary concern throughout the political unrest in Egypt was the safety of the approximately 30,000 British nationals. During the crisis, the FCO helped more than 2000 British nationals leave Cairo.
Protests began in Tunisia in mid-December 2010. The pace of unfolding events took everyone by surprise. UK Ambassador to Tunisia Chris O'Connor described what was happening on the streets in his online blog. He also shared his thoughts on the political situation and gave advice to British nationals in Tunisia at the time.
Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, set fire to himself in protest protest of the confiscation of his wares and the harassment and humiliation that he reported was inflicted on him by a municipal official and her aides. Bouazizi died on 4 January 2011.
His act became a catalyst for the Tunisian Revolution and the wider Arab Spring, inciting demonstrations and riots throughout Tunisia in protest of social and political issues in the country.
On 11 January, the Foreign Secretary William Hague condemned the violence and called on the Tunisian authorities to take steps to resolve the situation peacefully. He continued to release statements as the events unfolded.
It underlined the UK's call for effective economic development and more open and flexible political systems in the Middle East.