The MCB's Europe & International Affairs Committee (EIAC) with Forward Thinking convened a roundtable on May 25, 2011 at the House of Lords on the implications of the Arab Spring. Hosted by Lord Hylton, and co-chaired by MCBâ€™s Treasurer, Harun Rashid Khan, the discussion looked at the current transformations in the Middle East, and the implications on British policy in the region.
Presentations came from a number of academics, policy-makers, campaigners and others linked to the Arab Spring including Mohammed Abdelmalek from the Libyan Muslim Brotherhood, and Yusra Ghannuchi from Tunisiaâ€™s An-Nahda Movement â€“ both recently returned from Benghazi and Tunis respectively.
Former Ambassador to Libya and Director of MEC International provided a backdrop to the discussion highlighting key points in history vis-a-vis British policy in the Middle East. This was followed by Ashur Shamis, a Libyan journalist and human rights activist who explained the role and changing nature and influence of the Arab media â€“ and how it is contributing to the changes currently sweeping the region.
Professor Rosemary Hollis of Middle East Policy Studies and Director of the Olive Tree Scholarship Programme at City University London, discussed the prospects of transition to civilian rule and democracy in the post Arab Spring. She, along with Chris Doyle (director of Council for Arab-British Understanding), whilst welcoming the changes in the region placed caution, fearing the presence and continuity of pre-revolution corrupt figures and systems that have dogged the region for a long time. Doyle talked about a new British policy for the Middle East, one that would deal with people rather than ruling elites.
The roundtable was attended by academics, journalists, students, politicians, policy makers, lawyers as well as campaigners. It followed MCBâ€™s earlier statements on the subject, issued on 31st March and 20th May 2011.
The overwhelming feeling in the meeting was that the Arab Spring was a welcome sign for the region, against despotic regimes hell-bent on suppressing and oppressing their people with the tacit approval of UK and other western governments. It was recognised that whilst many have tried to attribute an ideology or a theology to the Arab Spring, in reality this movement is represents and unites people of all political currents, religious sects including Shiâ€™a and Sunni like in Bahrain, and faith communities such as in Egypt where Christian Copts, Muslims and people of no faith took to the streets in a show of strength, solidarity and determination to rid the country of former President Mubarak. The MCB strongly believes that Muslims in Britain have also an important role to play. We must consistently and regularly demand that the people of the Arab and Muslim world are allowed their freedom and their dignity without hindrance. We must assert that universal human rights are Islamic rights too and these should be protected and respected. As British citizens, we must insist that our government is consistent and forthright in its support for justice, in being on the right side of freedom.