Mideast awakens memories of communist fall: Merkel

German Chancellor Angela Merkel declares "there will be change in Egypt”.

Updated: Feb 05, 2011, 16:16 PM IST

Munich: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Saturday that protests in the Middle East awaken memories of the events that ended communism in eastern Europe, and declared that "there will be change in Egypt”.

However, Merkel — who grew up in East Germany and entered politics as communism crumbled amid protests in 1989 — said any transition needs to be orderly, and cautioned against assuming that the West`s democratic model can simply be exported elsewhere.

"We are seeing pictures awaken memories of what we experienced in Europe ... people who are shaking off their fear, people who are saying what they don`t like, who name injustices by name," Merkel said at an annual gathering of global security officials.

"Who would we be if we did not say we stand on the side of these people who are expressing what bothers them?"

Merkel called for Egyptian authorities to guarantee "freedoms that we consider universal — freedom of the press, freedom of opinion."

"There will be change in Egypt," she said, adding that it must be peaceful. Still, drawing on her own memories of starting out with a new pro-democracy party that failed to make much of a mark in elections a few months after the Berlin Wall fell, she cautioned against moving too fast.

"If you`re in this kind of process of upheaval, things just can`t go fast enough," Merkel said. But, she added, it doesn`t make sense to hold elections very quickly "as the beginning of a process of democratisation — you have to give people a chance to create structures."

She also recalled that East Germans didn`t appreciate being given too much advice even by West Germans, and noted that the West has seen that "the simple export of what we call Westminster democracy ... to all the regions of this world won`t work."

Change in other regions has to take account of local cultures, but respect for human rights is "the red line where we cannot make compromises”, she added.

Merkel spoke alongside British Prime Minister David Cameron. Neither leader would say what should happen to President Hosni Mubarak, whose immediate departure is a key demand of Egyptian protesters.

"I don`t think we in the West should be the ones to point fingers and say it`s this leader or that leader who must go now or start now," Cameron said. However, "to those who say what we need is to stick to the regime (in the interest of) stability, there is no stability in Egypt today," he added.

The Munich conference also features US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and high-powered delegations from around the world.

Ban said recent events in the Middle East "are driven at bottom by human insecurity, poverty, diminished or disappointed expectations, the lack of good governance, corruption”.

"It is important to remember: the problems and grievances causing unrest in the Arab world represent a microcosm in too many ways of the broader world," he added. "Despite progress in many places, insecurity is everywhere on the rise."

Bureau Report