Dominic AsquithHMA, Cairo
Each year in March all the British ambassadors gather in London to discuss a huge range of subjects connected with our work. This year, for the first time, most of us went to different parts of Britain to spend time with communities to talk through foreign policy issues that mattered to them.
I sat down with a group of young Muslim men and women in the west of London. They voiced the same desire I’ve often heard in the Middle East – for the big powers, particularly Western ones, to impose solutions to problems in the region, particularly regarding Palestine. But forcing solutions on people doesn’t work. You need them to own the solutions if they are to implement them effectively.
It is as true in families as it is with whole societies. Indeed, those who call for imposing solutions are vigorous in rejecting any attempt by others to make them do what they don’t want to do. They have to recognise first that a course of action is in their own interests.
The economic crisis is making everyone look again at the principles upon which they had got used to basing their assumptions. It was easy when things were rising that should be rising, like income, revenues, remittances, investments and economic growth. But it hid the fact that other things were also increasing that should not have been, like inflation, CO emissions and, of course, liabilities.
The State increasingly focused on “soft” power – the ability to persuade. Governments in the West tried to avoid exercising the “hard” power of direct intervention, or imposition. Confidence has also been knocked. But I keep coming across reasons to be confident. British companies are continuing to look to partner Egyptian ones – exploring ways to transfer knowledge and combine with the competitive advantages Egypt possesses to benefit both sides