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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 1087

Mr DANBY (9:55 PM) —I think it is appropriate, as revolution sweeps the Middle East, to do a survey of the countries that are contemplating or should be contemplating democratic change. Syria is a country that has not been focused on enough, in my view. It is a vicious police state controlled by a 10 per cent minority, the Alawis, who hold all security and armed services positions. It is run by President Bashar al-Assad, and is described by Freedom House as one of the lowest rating countries in terms of liberty in the world. The previous president, Hafez al-Assad, was famous for, in 1982, when there was a Muslim Brotherhood uprising in the city of Hama, taking a division of Syrian artillery and flattening the city by grid, killing 20,000 people. This was only discovered a few months after the event, by the Swiss Red Cross.

Iran is only a marginally better state, according to Freedom House. In my view, it is modelled very closely on the interwar German police state, with the Revolutionary Guards being very similar to the SS, and the Basij, the street thugs, very comparable to the Sturmabteilung, the SA, whom the Nazis used to use as their street thugs. In the demonstrations of young people in Tehran and Isfahan and all the famous cities of Persia, the Basij go into the crowd disguised as demonstrators and arrest, assault and kill people. This is the Ahmadinejad-Khamenei gangs’ way of keeping control of Iran and preventing the democratic revolution that is sweeping the Middle East from coming to their society.

Libya used to be a place that some people in Australian society—I can only call them crackpots—20 years ago used to adulate as a society that ought to be imitated by people who wanted social progress. Many of them travelled to the Libya of Colonel Gaddafi—which now machine guns its own citizens in its streets, uses its air force to bomb its own citizens and hires mercenaries from Africa to stab, assault and shoot people in the streets of Tripoli and Benghazi. The names of Hartley, Coxsedge, McLean and McKinlay, all of whom were advocates of Gaddafi and his Libyan Jamahiriya, and of Claudia Wright, who advocated for Colonel Gaddafi, all live in intellectual infamy given the true nature of what has happened in Libya over the last 43 years. That benighted country is a terrible police state, with a terrible deprivation of the freedoms that we consider so normal here in Australia.

The events in Egypt fill us with more hope. I think that President Obama and the Western world could not have opposed the democratic revolution in Egypt. If we had, for strategic reasons, the Egyptian people would, quite rightly, have swept aside the Mubarak government, and the Western world would have been seen to have supported the antidemocratic forces. We hope that the election that will take place in Egypt in a year’s time will not be the only election. We hope that civil society gets a chance to establish itself and that other democratic parties apart from the Muslim Brotherhood will have a chance to establish themselves and contest that election. We only wish the Egyptian people well. After all, Australia provides a great deal of food aid to that country and has paid for wheat that helps that society.

Egypt is a society where 45 per cent of women are illiterate. In a recent poll, 70 per cent of Egyptian women said they had experienced sexual violence, as had 98 per cent of foreign women in Egypt—we saw the terrible incident with the CBS reporter Lara Logan, where she was pack-attacked during the demonstrations in Tahrir Square. The liberation of women, the restoration of civil society, the control by government of the police and the establishment of a proper, independent judiciary, as we have in Australia, are all the kinds of things that Egypt needs to do before it can have a proper, democratic society. We wish them well in the forthcoming democratic elections. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.