Tuesday, May 31, 2011

G8 helps Arab Spring bloom

·         May 31, 2011 12:00AM
ENSURING that the Arab Spring does not become an Arab winter of discontent is a vital next stage in buttressing the thirst for democracy and freedom across the Middle East and North Africa and in confronting this, the G8 group of the world's most advanced economies has shown commendable perspicacity and foresight.
The G8 is not without critics, who maintain that with China, India and Brazil excluded from membership, it is not as relevant as it should be. There is something to that. But at their summit in Deauville, France, the G8's leaders have demonstrated their unique capacity to act decisively and on a massive scale, leading the way on the Arab uprisings with ambitious plans for a $40 billion aid package for the nascent democracies that, while not yet a defined Marshall Plan for the Middle East, should go a long way towards bolstering the democratic cause.
Comparisons between the uprisings across Eastern Europe 20 years ago and the Arab Spring are relevant. For democratic advances in Tunis, Cairo and elsewhere to be secured and extremism defeated, there is a similar need for institutional transformation. The G8 package, if it is carefully targeted and not corrupted by the usual suspects, should provide the means to achieve these vital goals.
Similarly, the G8 leaders have united -- importantly with the agreement of Russia, which, by being ambivalent, was giving him cause for hope -- to declare that Muammar Gaddafi's is no longer the legitimate government of Libya, leaving him marooned apart from support from fellow despots Robert Mugabe and Hugo Chavez, a grim reality that will hopefully persuade him he is doomed and that the game is up. The G8 wields unique authority but these decisions, critical to democracy in the Arab world, would have gained an added dimension had they been taken within the context of the larger G20 forum that includes China, India and Brazil. That is something Australia should work towards. By agreeing so swiftly to such potentially far-reaching measures in support of the Arab Spring, the G8 has, nonetheless, provided commendable leadership. Building functioning democracies in countries that have known only dictatorship is one of the great challenges of our times. The G8's aid package should go a long way towards achieving that goal. It deserves global support.

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