Britain pledges aid for 'Arab Spring'

26th May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Britain pledged more aid Thursday to fledgling democracies in the Arab world, urging other members of the G8 rich nations club to ignore their own financial woes and help the region.

Prime Minister David Cameron's spokesman announced an extra £110 million ($175 million) at a summit of world powers in Deauville, France, which was dominated by the issue of how to help the Middle East and North Africa.

Cameron warned that a failure to prop up new democratic regimes in the wake of popular revolts could spawn "poisonous extremism."

The International Monetary Fund also weighed in with an offer to loan 35 billion dollars to the region as it throws off the yoke of autocratic regimes, yet Russia remained cool on the idea of even economic intervention.

Tunisia and Egypt, where the "Arab Spring" first blossomed with protests against long-serving leaders, will benefit from the British aid as well as Morocco and Jordan, Cameron's spokesman said.

"This support for the peoples of the Arab world lies at the heart of our national interest. A failure to act risks instability on Europe's doorstep, collapse back into authoritarian rule, conflict and terrorism," he said.

Libya, where NATO-led air strikes are pummeling Colonel Moamer Kadhafi's forces, is not part of the aid programme.

Around £40 million of the money pledged over the next four years would go towards promoting political reform while the other £70 million will go on economic development.

Egypt and Tunisia will be coming to the G8 summit to seek financial aid after the uprisings that toppled presidents Hosni Mubarak and Zine el Abidine Ben Ali in January and February.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is expected to push other G8 members to more and Britain said it was trying to "encourage" them to do the same.

A British government source said the final communique issued by the G8 on Friday may contain a figure on the amount of aid pledged "but it's not at all clear".

Speaking earlier Thursday after talks with Sarkozy, Cameron said he wanted the summit to send out a message to Arab countries that they would help them build their democracies and their economies.

"The alternative to a successful democracy is more of the poisonous extremism that has done so much damage in our world," said Cameron, whose Conservative-led coalition has introduced sweeping cuts to tackle Britain's deficit.

"What I would say to everybody about the issue of overseas aid is that there is a real case for saying that if you can secure greater democracy and freedom in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, that is good for us back at home."

At a joint press conference with US President Barack Obama on Wednesday, Cameron said the United States and Britain would push at the G8 meeting for a "major programme of economic and political support" for Arab countries.

White House economic adviser David Lipton said the United States expected G8 leaders to "commit to a partnership" with Egypt and Tunisia as well as other countries in the region seeking democracy and economic reform.

Obama announced plans last week to write off one billion dollars in Egyptian debt, combined with another three billion dollars in loan and investment guarantees.

In contrast to Britain and the US, Russia has so far given few indications however that it plans to financially support democratic change in countries like Egypt or Tunisia.

The Kremlin's top economic adviser, Arkady Dvorkovich, said at the summit that it would merely back the economic development of the region as a whole.

"We are talking about support for the development of North Africa and the Middle East and not about support for or change of the regimes. We will together support economies of those countries," he told reporters in Deauville.

The IMF meanwhile said in a report to the leaders of the G8 that it was prepared to lend about $35 billion to oil importing countries in the Middle East and North Africa region.

But it warned that was a small part of the more than $300 billion the region could require over the next two years, even before reforms.

© 2011 AFP

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