Welcoming Remarks by International Relations and Cooperation Deputy Minister Ebrahim Ebrahim at the Roundtable Discussion on “Developments in the MENA Region” hosted by the Policy, Research and Analysis Unit (PRAU), 16 July 2012

Programme Director;
Excellencies;
Colleagues;
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen.

Inspired by the Freedom Charter and our Constitution, the South African government continues to believe that every citizen of the world is entitled to enjoy their fundamental human rights and freedoms. The legitimate demand for these political goods by the people of the Middle East and North Africa region has sparked the political developments we are gathered to discuss today.

This workshop covers a broad range of countries and developments across the MENA region. Global interest in the region was piqued during what was characterized as the “Arab Spring”, which has developed unevenly across MENA as peaceful transitions, managed transitions and civil wars. We cannot be selective in our focus on individual countries like Syria while ignoring situations which may require similar attention from the international community.

At the centre of our foreign policy is our commitment to peace, stability and socio-economic development on the continent. We have therefore sought to work with other African countries to contribute towards strengthening our institutions such as the African Union and the regional communities to play an active role in dealing with challenges facing our continent. In this context, it is extremely unfortunate that the African Union was blocked in its efforts to bring about a political settlement in Libya.

The added value of South Africa and the African Union continues to be a deep rooted belief that the sustainable peace can only be reached through inclusive dialogue and negotiations. Military solutions are almost always counter-productive, leading to greater human tragedy, as we saw in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, and we are seeing in the tragedy in Mali and the Sahel region today.

It is clear that the current developments in the Arab world also have fundamental implications for the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the broader Arab-Israeli conflict. We must not lose sight of the broader regional question to which Palestine is inextricably linked.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The “Arab Spring” and the events that have now unfolded across the MENA region caught the world largely unaware. South Africa, the African Union as well as the rest of the world have been dealing with the rapid changes and developments in a reactive fashion. Workshops like these will assist us in formulating a more proactive approach to the region.

The review commissioned by the Institute for Global Dialogue provides a general overview of the developments in the MENA region, and I would like to welcome the IGD here today to discuss their findings as a basis for our discussions. This report aimed to identify the most significant dynamics that have accompanied the on-going changes in the MENA region and to highlight their implications for South Africa’s future engagements in the region. The report also makes recommendations that could feed into the Department’s bilateral and regional engagements.

Our discussions here today will further reflect on the role of social movements in the region, the political rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the role of external actors in the MENA region.

Our aim at the end of this workshop is to achieve more clarity on how South Africa and Africa can contribute to the processes of change in the MENA region, as well as develop thinking on how this will impact on South Africa and Africa’s interests in the region.

I therefore wish you successful deliberations and trust that we will have an active debate on these critical developments.

Thank you

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