Two sentences in the speech by the Director General of the Security Service, Jonathan Evans, yesterday evening have drawn particular notice. They are his statement that parts of the Arab world after the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ have become:
‘a more permissive environment for Al Qaeda’
and also that:
‘a small number of British would be jihadis are also making their way to Arab countries to seek training and opportunities for militant activity, as they do in Somalia and Yemen’.
Without going over all of the responses to these facts, I would make just one comment.
It appears to be impossible for some people to consider the following straightforward possibility (which also formed part of Evans’ speech): that in the long term the events which have been named ‘the Arab Spring’ provide not only the best, but the only answer to the problems of the region. But that while this is the case it is also true that in the short term (which could itself take a very long time) we and every other country with an interest in a stable outcome will have to keep a very close eye on (and occasionally hand in) ensuring things do not go badly awry.
Backing ‘stable’ dictators in the region not only bought countries like this little thanks from the dictators, it brought less than no love from the people those dictators pretended to rule. In each of the countries in which there have been uprisings (including Syria) there exist non-fundamentalist democratic movements with whom we not only could, but should do business. The fundamentalist movements have however – as I have written here a number of times – had something of a head-start. Partly as a result of our previous failed policies.
It is not too late. Democratic countries can still be involved to ensure that fellow democrats who oppose one-vote-once Islamist parties win through. But to decide each and every time something bad comes out of these events that it demonstrates that the game of dictators was the right one or a good one is not just to ignore morality in foreign policy, it is to pretend and wish away a situation that has radically altered and will not be coming back.