Saturday 24 Oct 2020 | 22:37 | SYDNEY
Saturday 24 Oct 2020 | 22:37 | SYDNEY

Australia selective on Arab democracy


Rodger Shanahan


11 March 2011 14:35

The problem with being ideologically disposed towards democracy and having to deal in the real world of international politics is that you often have to say one thing but do another. The trick for public figures is to avoid having to do it too often or too close together in time.

A good example is the Foreign Minister's recent Middle Eastern sojourn. During an interview with CNN, he was effusive in his praise of the Egyptian protesters:

...let's just be real about it Errol in terms of how we feel. Enormous excitement at the fact that the universality of the aspiration for freedom is not bound to any culture, any country, and anytime in history. That it is universal.

One of the most moving things for me recently was to sit down with those kids who'd been in Tahrir Square when I was in Cairo about a week or so ago. We got a round table of them together at our Ambassador's residence. Young kids from the Muslim Brotherhood; young kids from secular organisations; young kids from human rights organisations; young Copts; young Muslims, you name it they were all there. And what united them was their desire to see a new Egypt, a democratic Egypt a new pluralist Egypt in which they could all participate. So that's the excitement.

All good stuff and undoubtedly true. And the bit about the universality of aspirations for freedom, regardless of any culture, country or time was powerful in ideological terms.

Given the circumstances in Bahrain, though, where the Shi'a majority has been denied political, social and economic equality for so long and recently suffered deaths at the hands of security forces while protesting for political reforms, there is more than a little hypocrisy in the communique emanating from the first joint ministerial GCC-Australia Strategic Dialogue, which the Foreign Minister also participated in: 

The two sides valued the reform initiative of His Majesty King of Bahrain aimed at reinforcing state institutions, rule of law, and dialogue, led by H.H. the Crown Prince, with all parties without exceptions.

Nothing there about the universality of freedom, or any hint of excitement at the desire to see a new democratic, pluralist Bahrain in which all could participate equally and all could join those 'reinforced' state institutions. 

Nobody ever said consistency is a feature of foreign relations, or that you should be equally excited about every country.