MPs demand new Arab Spring strategy amid Syria violence

By Cassie Chambers

The UK needs to change its Middle East strategy in response to the Arab Spring, an influential committee of MPs said today.

The Foreign Affairs committee warned failure to make changes in how the Foreign Office approaches Arab relations could have disastrous consequences.

The report comes as leaders around the world continue to try to find solutions for the crisis in Syria.

Yesterday saw renewed reports of violence, with several senior Syrian officials dying in an opposition-led attack in Damascus.

"Eighteen months since the Arab Spring began, there has been extraordinary progress in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya," said chairman Richard Ottaway.

"Yet many challenges still lie ahead, not least the need to support and reform the economies of these Arab Spring states."

Specific recommendations advocated by the government include increased funding to the region, improving the Foreign Office's language skills and staffing levels, and strengthening relationship with Islamist parties in the region.

The chairman suggested measures to allow these "states in transition" to increasingly access already available funds.

"In 2011, the G8 Deauville Partnership identified $38 billion (£24 billion) of funding available to support reform. The UK must use its leadership in the EU and G8…to ensure that we deliver on our promises."

The UK is set to assume presidency of the G8 in 2013.

In addition to these new measures, the committee also argued the UK must learn from its past mistakes.

"It is not reasonable to have expected FCO diplomats to have predicted the Arab Spring uprisings with precision. However, we are concerned by reports that the Foreign Office's linguistic skills and staffing levels had reduced in the years before the uprisings," the chairman said.

He warned: "The Foreign Office must consider what lessons can be learned from its experience with the Arab Spring and what steps it can take to improve its ability to anticipate such events in the future."

The committee also commented on current events in its report, calling the situation in Syria "unacceptable" and the UN stalemate on the issue "deeply concerning".

Russia and China have recently claimed the international community "stretched" the resolution on Libya, causing the two countries to be sceptical of further UN resolutions to intervene on behalf of Arab Spring uprisings.

The committee's report rejected this argument, saying: "There can be no certainty that a less interventionist approach in Libya would have led to readier support from Russia and China for more vigorous condemnation of President Assad."

Many argue a more comprehensive, pro-active strategy for addressing the Arab Spring is increasingly necessary, as the various democracy movements struggle to deliver on their promise.

Some experts argue the Arab Spring has increasingly turned into an 'Islamist Winter', with extremist parties gaining political power.

Critics argue the UK and the international community must take a more pro-active role toward supporting Arab Spring states if the global movement is to produce more genuine democracies in the region.