Gov­ern­ment’s shoddy re­sponse

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION/NEWS -

Prime Min­is­ter John Key will have been grate­ful that so lit­tle at­ten­tion was paid by main­stream me­dia out­lets to the New Zealand Gov­ern­ment’s re­sponse to the his­toric events in Egypt.

As the demo­cratic revo­lu­tion be­gan in Cairo, Key was asked bluntly by Break­fast tele­vi­sion host Corin Dann whether he thought the Egyp­tian dic­ta­tor Hosni Mubarak should go. Key replied: ‘‘No.’’

This at a time when even the White House was call­ing for an or­derly trans­fer of power. Among the few rea­sons Key of­fered was that Egypt had been the only Arab nation to sup­port Is­rael.

Apart from be­ing fac­tu­ally wrong – Jor­dan recog­nised Is­rael in the early 1990s – it was un­clear why recog­ni­tion of Is­rael should be such a sig­nif­i­cant yard­stick of this coun­try’s for­eign pol­icy.

We en­joy sub­stan­tial trade re­la­tion­ships with many na­tions in the Mid­dle East and else­where ( in­clud­ing Malaysia and In­done­sia) that, rightly or wrongly, have not for­mally recog­nised Is­rael’s an­nex­a­tion of Pales­tine as be­ing le­git­i­mate.

Hav­ing put it­self out of step with our tra­di­tional al­lies – who with vary­ing de­grees of un­sub­tlety were call­ing for Mubarak to hand over power – New Zealand took al­most the en­tire du­ra­tion of the cri­sis to re­vise its po­si­tion.

It was only on Fe­bru­ary 11 (one day be­fore Mubarak stepped down, and just af­ter he had is­sued a de­fi­ant speech in­flam­ing the sit­u­a­tion) that For­eign Min­is­ter Mur­ray McCully felt able to call for change.

‘‘Clearly, sub­stan­tive and mean­ing­ful re­forms are re­quired if the ad­min­is­tra­tion is to meet the le­git­i­mate ex­pec­ta­tions of the Egyp­tian peo­ple,’’ said McCully. ‘‘Equally clearly, that process needs to com­mence with suf­fi­cient com­mit­ment to dif­fuse cur­rent ten­sions.’’

Even at this 11th hour, could New Zealand bring it­self to de­nounce Mubarak for re­fus­ing to heed the calls of the demon­stra­tors to re­sign? Not quite.

‘‘It is not yet ap­par­ent how to­day’s speech from the Pres­i­dent will con­trib­ute to that process. But it is al­ready clear that many of the pro­test­ers will con­tinue to call for more re­form, more quickly.’’

What fol­lowed then was an un­gainly at­tempt at even-hand­ed­ness.

‘‘We join oth­ers in urg­ing the Egyp­tian lead­er­ship to lis­ten and re­spond, and the pro­test­ers to pur­sue their ob­jec­tives through means that are non-vi­o­lent and con­struc­tive,’’ said McCully.

Was this the best we could do to as­sist the demise of 30 years of tyranny?

To ‘‘urge’’ (not ‘‘de­mand’’ or ‘‘in­sist’’) that the despot should ‘‘lis­ten and re­spond’’ while we lec­tured the non-vi­o­lent demon­stra­tors (who had just lost more than 300 dead to the forces of re­pres­sion) to con­tinue to pur­sue their ob­jec­tives in ‘‘non­vi­o­lent and con­struc­tive’’ ways.

Safe to say, this was not New Zealand diplo­macy’s finest hour. Per­haps no-one out­side New Zealand would care that we chose to re­main Mubarak’s last, best friend – out­side of Is­rael, at least.

Be­fore this cri­sis, the as­sump­tion was that New Zealand would re­join the cho­rus of our tra­di­tional al­lies. Such readi­ness would – for ex­am­ple – have al­most cer­tainly led to us march­ing off to war in Iraq, if the de­ci­sion at the time had been left to a Na­tional-led Gov­ern­ment.

Dur­ing the cri­sis in Egypt, how­ever, the more dis­turb­ing con­clu­sion was that our lead­ers seemed un­able to hear what even our tra­di­tional al­lies were say­ing.

Gor­don Camp­bell is an ex­pe­ri­enced po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist and colum­nist who has writ­ten for The Lis­tener and Scoop.

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