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Arab World

'Arab Spring like Europe after communism'

Cyprus, Egypt, Syria and Israel - German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle has much to keep him busy at the moment. In an interview with public broadcaster ARD, he gives Germany's take on the issues.

Christiane Meier: We want to talk about the Arab Spring. But just before that we'd like to talk about Cyprus. It turns out that Cyprus was downgraded two points last night. Should we begin worrying again that the euro is in danger since another country is going to need to be bailed out?

Guido Westerwelle: No, the euro's not in danger, and with Cyprus there are relevant aid mechanisms - if Cyprus wants those mechanisms and requests them. However that requires that Cyprus is sincere about implementing its own reforms. Further substantial steps are certainly necessary - real austerity measures, real structural reforms. And when Cyprus is ready to take that road, Europe is ready to help.

Let's turn to the Arab Spring. I recall that about two years ago you were at Tahrir Square [in Cairo], that it was - in your words - an historic moment. That was a touching moment. People cheered you, something that doesn't happen too often with the FDP [Germany's Free Democratic Party, currently in a majority coalition with Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union and known for its pro-business platform], but this time they really cheered you on. And now we're faced with the current turmoil. Are you disappointed by the Arab Spring, particularly in Egypt?

First of all - when I'm abroad I don't represent a party but an entire country. And I think it's important to point out that in Egypt we have an enormously powerful process that is being set in motion. We certainly remember our own revolution after the fall of the iron curtain in Europe. There were setbacks, collapses and also worrisome developments. But in the end everything developed in the right direction.

Among many protestors, a man stands out in the foreground with a gray beard, gray hair, and arms upraised.
(Photo:Amr Nabil/AP/dapd)

Islamists chant slogans supporting Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi

That's my hope for the Arab world. We're appealing to Egypt not only to embark on a democratic venture, but to hold the course. A part of that is plurality, religious plurality - that means all faiths be represented in modern Egypt. And above all else, a big part of that is the rule of law, a separation of powers. And that's where it's up to President Morsi to reach out to the opposition, so that compromise and dialog can be found. Conversely, the opposition also has to be ready to talk.

It's exactly the separation of powers that Morsi has suspended. There are people who worry about an Islamic dictatorship. Do you share that worry?

I've spoken with President Morsi on several different occasions. I travelled there for talks with him immediately after his election. My impression is that he and most of his supporters would like a democratic path for Egypt. But I also have to criticize that the constitutional process, which he thought would unify Egypt, is now becoming more and more of a divisive issue among the public. And naturally the president and other responsible leaders have to engage in dialogue to overcome that.

In another country, Syria, we've seen a similar development. Assad's regime appears on the verge of falling. Even Putin has backed away somewhat from Syria. Do you have a similar worry that Syria's opposition could be dominated by Islamists?

The speed of the disintegration of Assad's regime is picking up. We recognize that increasingly in Syria, including within the regime itself, things seem to be falling apart. I welcome the fact that, little by little, Russia is also carefully rethinking things. I interpret the recent signals that way, in any case.

Because of course it's clear that a new Syria is only possible if Assad clears the way. It's a regime that is responsible for a lot of injustice. And the decision to officially recognize the opposition National Coalition appears to have come at the right time. It was right and it's a real alternative to the injustices of Assad's regime.

It's been reported that the Islamists in the opposition have become very powerful. Doesn't it worry you that there could be a scenario similar to the one in Egypt?

Well, that's not really comparable. We can't forget that in Egypt we're seeing the first free elections - for the first time in the country's history. That means that when we talk about President Morsi we're talking about the first freely elected president.

A politician in a black suit and yellow tie talks to an Arab politician wearing white robes and a white head scarf.
(Photo: Tim Brakemeier/dpa)

Westerwelle at the "Friends of the Syrian people" conference

And in Syria we're watching closely to see whether the opposition groups can agree on a democratic platform and that there's room for all religions in Syria. That's how our talks with National Coalition representatives took place. And we're taking them by their word.

Can you tell me what that means for Israel?

My impression is that we of course need some new movement in the peace process in the Middle East. We can only achieve that when we resume direct talks, direct negotiations. And that's why everything that prevents that should be avoided, like the settlement policy, for example, or hate speeches from Hamas.

The interview was conducted by Christiane Meier of the German public broadcaster ARD.

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