Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

On John Key’s feeble response to events in Egypt

February 1st, 2011

All very well that John Key is New Zealand’s third Jewish prime minister, as the Jerusalem Post described him at the time of his election.

However, on Monday’s TVNZ’s Breakfast programme Key seemed to be regarding a nation’s stance towards Israel as being the basis of our foreign policy attitude towards them. That is the only conclusion that can be drawn from this bizarre exchange :

Key: It’s a serious situation in Egypt. As we’ve seen, a number of people have lost their lives already. And, worryingly actually, is that Egypt has been one of the few Arab nations that has recognised Israel, in fact the only one. And has been very peaceful with Israel. So, the concern is what that might mean for the wider position in the Middle East. So, a real worry….

Breakfast presenter Corin Dann: I’ll just take you back to that issue of the support for Israel. Egypt has been a very strong ally for the West, which makes this a very difficult situation for the likes of the US, which, I know, has not called for Mubarak to go yet. Where does New Zealand sit on that?

Key: The New Zealand Government wants a peaceful outcome to this. In the end, whoever governs your country is a matter for the citizens. And in the case of Mubarak he’s been there for a long time, 30-odd years. We respect the fact that he has done his very best to lead a country which has recognised Israel and, therefore, has wanted to make sure the position in Middle East has been a peaceful one. It’s not easy, it’s very complex, and there’s a lot of emotion.

Dann: Are you calling for him to go?

Key: No.

Dann: I guess the concern is the Muslim Brotherhood. The potential for an Islamist movement to come in and fill that vacuum. Is that the concern?

Key: Well, the concern is that there are some nations that simply do not recognise Israel. And, taken to the extreme, in Iran, Ahmadinejad has said he basically wants to see Israel wiped off the face of the Earth. So, it’s a very serious situation. Egypt’s provided stability and leadership and calmness. Obviously, the hope always being that that position would spread across the Middle East, that it would be possible to broker a two-state solution, with recognition of Palestine as well but this certainly looks like it’s taking things, potentially, in the wrong direction.’

This is breath-takingly vacuous. Apparently, Because Egypt recognizes Israel – and has allegedly provided “ stability and leadership and calmness” etc in the region – the aspirations for democracy that are bravely being expressed by the Egyptian people on the stets of Cairo and other cities across the country are being opposed by New Zealand’s Prime Minister as “Certainly look[ing] like its taking things potentially in the wrong direction…” Amazing stuff. Newsflash for Key: what Anwar Sadat and his successor Mubarak were offering wasn’t stability, it was tyranny. Here’s Anne Applebaum on Slate spelling out what should be obvious to our Israel-fixated Prime Minister:

Politicians like stability. Bankers like stability. But the “stability” we have so long embraced in the Arab world wasn’t really stability. It was repression. The benign dictators we have supported, or anyway tolerated—the Zine al-Abidine Ben Alis, the Hosni Mubaraks, the various kings and princes—have stayed in power by preventing economic development, clamping down on free speech, keeping tight control of education, and above all by stamping down hard on anything resembling civil society….Independent organizations of all kinds, from political parties and private businesses to women’s groups and academic societies have been watched, harassed, or banned altogether.

The result: Egypt, like many Arab societies, has a wealthy and well-armed elite at the top and a fanatical and well-organized Islamic fundamentalist movement at the bottom. In between lies a large and unorganized body of people who have never participated in politics, whose business activities have been limited by corruption and nepotism, and whose access to the outside world has been hampered by stupid laws and suspicious bureaucrats.

Given that reality, you’d think our Prime Minister would be supporting the brave people out on the streets, and urging the Egyptian leadership not to use violence against them. Moreover, is it asking too much for Key to get his simple facts straight? Remember, he told Corin Dann that Egypt is the ‘only’ Arab state that recognizes Israel. It isn’t. Jordan has had full diplomatic relations with Israel for the past 17 years, since the signing of the Israel-Jordan peace treaty of 1994.

Among Muslim majority nations, Turkey formally recognized the state of Israel as long ago as 1949. Conversely, if recognition of Israel is to be the new benchmark of our foreign policy under Key in future, should exporters to Malaysia and Indonesia be worried? Because neither Malaysia nor Indonesia formally recognize the legitimacy of the state of Israel. Are they, somehow, regarded with hostility by our current PM on that basis?

As for the dreaded Ahmadinejad… Key seems dead keen on having our SAS troops defending Afghanistan. Yet only last year, Afghan leader Hamid Karzai warmly embraced Ahmadinejad as having the same national interests and the same historical cultural links, and as being a key source of security and reconstruction assistance:

Mr Karzai hosted Mr Ahmadinejad at the presidential palace…. Both leaders said Afghanistan and Iran were ‘brother nations’ that have the same national interests and same historical cultural links. Mr Karzai said Iran was helping and assisting Afghanistan with reconstruction projects, improving education and helping provide electricity. He said: ‘We are very hopeful that our brother nation of Iran will work with us in bringing peace and security to Afghanistan so that both our countries will be secure.’

Key is an embarrassment – Mubarak’s last overt friend in the world, outside Israel. Even the Americans have been steadily backing away from him, with Barack Obama calling for an orderly transition. On the ground, New Zealand citizens have also felt abandoned by their leader during this time of crisis.

Other nations – including Australia, Thailand, Canada and the US – have put plans in train to evacuate their citizens from Egypt as the demonstrations approach crunch time. Instead, Key has indicated that there no immediate problem, and talked vaguely of asking the Americans for help if the need arises. New Zealand officials have been denying the need for government action, by saying that the fastest way out of Egypt is on a commercial flight. Oh really? Perhaps they should read this morning’s New York Times :

Chaos reigned at Cairo International Airport, the country’s largest airport, as a sea of tourists and Egyptians scrambled desperately to get on an outbound commercial flight on Monday. Throngs pushed through Terminal 4 where stranded travelers slept on luggage on the litter-strewn floor. A dozen people stood atop ticket counters, seeking a view over the crowd.

Tempers boiled over at times as travelers struggled to get seats on the limited number of commercial flights still operating. At one point the airport stopped posting flight times on its departure board, The Associated Press reported, in an attempt to ease tensions. But the move served only to stoke anger over delays and cancellations.

At every level, the Key response to the crisis in Egypt has been morally bankrupt, feeble and indecisive. In the next 48 hours, Egypt will enter the decisive stage of the uprising against the Mubarak dictatorship. It is too much to hope that by then our vacuous, grinning leader will have finally got on top of the demands that this crisis entails?


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    1. 21 Responses to “On John Key’s feeble response to events in Egypt”

    2. By hellonearthis on Feb 1, 2011 | Reply

      Let us all chip in and send John Key on a support tour to stay with his mate Mubarak.

    3. By richarquis on Feb 1, 2011 | Reply

      What are all these big words? Seems to be some kind of witchery.

      All hail the Prime Minister! His robes are the finest!

    4. By MurmiNZ on Feb 1, 2011 | Reply

      If that is the best he can do, John Key’s knowledge of affairs in the Middle East and of the present situation in Egypt is breathtakingly poor and just totally inept. This is our Prime Minister!!!! Embarrassing and worse. These people have been repressed for 30 years by a dictator using martial law for all that time. Is that acceptable? Our PMs comments are completely Israel-centric. Who advises him? Iran’s Ahmadinejad has never said he wants Israel wiped off the face of the earth. This is an Israeli fabrication. Well John, you better quickly bone up on your human rights, the dynamics of international affairs and many other things as you have just, obviously unknowingly, stuck your big fat foot in your mouth and may have to extricate it quickly when you really see how silly and flippant your comments really are.

    5. By Stephen on Feb 1, 2011 | Reply

      “All very well that John Key is New Zealand’s third Jewish prime minister, as the Jerusalem Post described him at the time of his election.”

      What are you trying to say here, Gordon? Is there any actual reason to suppose that somthing other than the usual ill-informed bumbling is in play?

    6. By citygirl on Feb 1, 2011 | Reply

      I am embarrassed to have such an ignorant Prime Minister. All he seems to enjoy are the photo ops and the schmoozing. He is a dummy – oops – a rich dummy.

    7. By donna on Feb 1, 2011 | Reply

      Key seems to be saying he had hoped Egypt’s ‘stability’, ie its dictatorship, would spread across the Middle East.
      This is plain embarrassing, and a real indictment of this government’s views on human rights. Next time our glorious leader ought to get some advice from someone who knows what the hell is happening before he comes out with this nonsense.

    8. By lyndon on Feb 1, 2011 | Reply

      Audio from the PM’s post cabinet press conference is here

    9. By Joe Blow on Feb 1, 2011 | Reply

      I always wondered how much Key’s ancestry influenced his world view. I never expected it to be so blatantly predictable!

      I’m still not going to go down the World Jewry conspiracy theory route though. Not that I’m suggesting you’re insinuating this Gordon.

      Still he made his money as a money trader and he is Jewish…

      Resist connecting those simple dots! Resist!

      I hate conspiracy theories. Too damn simple.

    10. By Nestor on Feb 2, 2011 | Reply

      I’m kind of young and don’t recall any National leaders before Bolger, but has there been anyone as ill-informed as Key as Prime Minister before? I know we’re a country of just 4.3million, and we can’t expect a fantastic Prime Minister every time, just like we can’t expect a regularly competent Prime Minister, but is this Key an exception, as Bush seemed to do for the US?

    11. By two cents on Feb 2, 2011 | Reply

      I don’t think Key’s comments have anything to do with his ancestry. They sound like talking points from Fox News.

      Note there’s a difference between Jews (people), Judaism (religion) and Zionism (a political movement favouring a Jewish State at the cost of the Palestinians).

      Similarly, there’s a difference between Muslims (people), Islam (religion) and Islamism (a political movement which, in its most extreme form, favours a religious state based on Shariah law).

      Our mainstream media seldom makes this distinction clear.

    12. By reina on Feb 3, 2011 | Reply

      Loved this article and shared it on John Key’s facebook page, I wonder what his fans will have to say about this and how they plan to defend him? Everything he said goes against what this country stands for and I’m ashamed to have him as our PM.

      But I find it funny that he’s worried about a country that not long ago had sent spies with fake passports to our country.

    13. By ana on Feb 3, 2011 | Reply

      Why how strange it is that the Israeli govt sent out cables to world leaders the day prior to John Key making these ridiculous comments. See the haaretz article

    14. By John Ahern on Feb 3, 2011 | Reply

      Key’s comments are a disgraceful and very ugly piece of commentary. You can see that he steadily sidetracks and turns the discussion about Egypt in to one that revolves primarily around Israel. He not only shows disdain for New Zealanders abroad but reveals his hand when he shows greater concern for the strategic position of the Zionist state than he does about the desires of the Egyptian people whose voices are still not being heard. That conversation should not have been about the shrieking incantations of Jews but should have been about the situation on the ground for the Egyptian people and their aspirations. Key’s comes across as a shit person.

    15. By Peter on Feb 4, 2011 | Reply

      Why are you surprised at John Key’s casual approach to world events that only a small minority of New Zealanders care about? When the main newspaper of the capital fills its front page with news of a building with leaky walls (wow!)a bunch of wowsers dressed as schoolgirls (hilarious),when the main television news is concerned with photogenic trivia, and the main tv analysis programme features hedgehogs how can you expect the population to know about the rest of the world?
      We criticise America for its insularity but New Zealand is getting worse. Why would Key care about Chinese activists? Why stick your neck out over the unknown future of Egypt (though repression is not necessarily incompatible with stability, is it?) when you are facing an election and don’t need to understand the complexities of the middle east?

    16. By ZenTiger on Feb 8, 2011 | Reply

      This report reflects a biased interpretation of what John Key said and probably meant.

      If Egypt turfs Mubarak, the process will be bloody. The outcome may not be democracy, and even if it is democracy, it will likely be a hollow democracy without a commitment to equality under law for all with protected freedoms we consider to be part and parcel of democracy, but seldom are outside of the West.

      Any country that emerges committed to not working with Israel will only generate greater instability in the region. Egypt had gone to war several times in the past, and repeating that in these times could see the so-called “disproportionate force” Israel may feel compelled to use, as Iran, Syria, Jordan and others fund and escalate confrontations to suit their end game.

      That will mean bloodshed for everyone.

      All I read in John Key’s words are an awareness the simple solutions the arm chair critics think are inevitable are a million miles away from how this will probably play out.

    17. By Seemorerocks on Feb 11, 2011 | Reply

      Why make comment about something you have little understanding of and which the New Zealand public largely don’t care about (largely because they’re fed a lot of meaningless drivel) – even if the effects of these events (like 1917 in Russia and 1979 in Iran) are going to reverberate around the world – even as far as little New Zealand.

      She’ll be right mate….. no, she won’t!

    18. By samsonite on Feb 20, 2011 | Reply

      The orthodox Jews are now banning conversion to Judaism, and claim that those who can not trace their lineage directly are of lesser races. it’s no wonder most of the world is weary of any politics which is based on race, or indeed religion. the world governing bodies such as the UN can’t make any resolution against Israel without always America veto. why is this, sod conspiracy theories but it’s clearly reasons to be purely secular for the hope of mankind and the future of the earth. gold is useless to eat and worthless in a flood and democracy in the west is falling to global companies who can lobby governments to create laws… the nz government has become very weak, just a bunch of fence sitting paid talking heads happy to quietly do Americas bidding. not since David Lange debated nuclear weapons at oxford and banned Yankee ships have NZ really felt brave and strong. this is a debate speech that every child should listen to in school,and be taught how to stand up tall. yes, nz was attacked by the French but my word not a country in the world could say we didn’t stand up with a strong spine. this Key is rather limp and is so soft will never unlock any doors.

    19. By samuel welsh on Oct 3, 2011 | Reply

      keys ya twit , the reason people are rioting in egypt is that they dont want thier current leader its got nothing to do with isreal mannn

    20. By samuel welsh on Oct 3, 2011 | Reply

      no attacks on isreal we are not a racist people.
      we are fighting dictators not countries.

    21. By martin on Oct 4, 2011 | Reply

      He can’t remember what he was doing in 1981 let alone have comprehensive handle on middle eastern current affairs.

      He is not called a sub prime minister for nothing.

    22. By Shona Duncan on Jul 16, 2013 | Reply

      Why can’t I tweet this?

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