Brazil and the Arab Spring: Diplomacy of Prudence

brazilBrazil and Arab countries have a history of good relations, and last year trade represented US$ 25.1 billion. The revolutionary movements demanding democratic governmental institutions known as the Arab Spring affected the international system as whole. Given the importance of Brazil as an emerging power, it is crucial to analyze the how regime change impacts diplomacy and commerce.

As the first country to implement popular demands for a democratic government, Tunisia is a cornerstone in the Arab Spring. Even though Tunisia is a fragmented society which faced violent protests, regime change was achieved without third-party intervention.

Brazil supports the newly elected democratic government, following the horizontal model focused on south-south cooperation. As evidence of good relations, Brazil’s Foreign Minister visited Tunisia after being invited by the Foreign Business Minister. Economic relations among these countries have increased since 2007, where Brazil represents half of trade between Tunisia and South America.

Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a Free Trade Agreement with Mercosur, which opened the market of goods, fixed origin rules and preferential safeguard protections. When protests demanding regime change started, violence escalated. However, after months of instability, the Mubarak regime was ousted, and Egypt was governed by a military junta until the new government was democratically elected. Moreover, the deposed government was taken to trial, thereby demonstrating a commitment to international law.

According to Brazilian President Dilma Roussef, the new government marked the inception of a modern era, thereby emphasizing that other Arab Spring countries could be successful in implementing democratic regimes through a bottom-up model. Returning to a normalized status quo after the revolution was crucial, especially in the tourism sector, which plays a major role in Egypt’s economy.

When uprisings in Libya began, Brazil supported a peaceful resolution. Military intervention should have only been applied if all other peaceful meanings were exhausted. When the UN Security Council voted the Arab League request to set up a no-fly zone to end the violence against civilians, Brazil was concerned with the violence, but since a military intervention could exacerbate the conflict, it supported the UN special envoy and the Ad Hoc Committee created by the African Union to develop a negotiated settlement.

Brazil supports the Responsibility to Protect (R2P). However, in the voting of the Security Council Resolution 1970, concerns of its effectiveness were raised. Moreover, Brazil abstained from voting the Resolution 1973, a position multilaterally adopted by the trilateral alliance of India, Brazil and South African known as IBSA.

Nevertheless, Resolution 1973 was approved, which opened precedent to a NATO intervention within the provisions of the R2P. Instead of protecting civilians, reconciling sectarian issues to provide the basis for a democratic regime, and trying Qaddafi in court, NATO supplied opposition forces and implemented a regime change, resulting with Qaddafi’s assassination.

When problems escalated, Brazil proposed to the General Assembly and Security Council the concept of Responsibility While Protecting (RWP) to fill in the gap between intervention and its practice, where only the UNSC has the powers to approve R2P intervention.

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Therefore it should monitor them to assure the R2P is implemented unbiased. Although the new Prime Minister’s Cabinet was approved by the Parliament, some armed groups have not abstained from using violence, thereby highlighting that sectarian issues often linger after regime change.

Thus, the concept of RWP aims to provide criteria to the effective practice of the existing R2P concept to avoid third-party intervention for regime change without resolving inter-sectarian conflicts. Furthermore, Brazil and Libya have had good economic relations since the Qaddafi regime, and after it was ousted, Brazilian exports increased sharply, following the foreign policies of partnerships diversification and south-south cooperation.

Syria has been present in Brazilian foreign affairs since President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva recognized its significant location, a heartland within the Middle East, Europe and Asia. When protests demanding democratic institutions began Brazil condemned the violence against civilians, but it defends that military intervention should not be applied unless all other peaceful measures have been exhausted.

Actually, Brazil aims to avoid deteriorating the conflict because it does not have a clear opposition; it is complex and involves a lot of external factors as well as several interested actors.

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton stated the importance of Brazil as an interlocutor to prevent religious extremists from being active in the revolution. However, Brazil defends a cease-fire along with diplomatic mobilization to implement the path for a peace process.

Thus, Brazil supports the UN and Arab League Special Envoy to mediate the conflict. This position is supported by the IBSA trilateral alliance and reiterated in the 3rd Annual Summit of the Heads of State and Governments of South American-Arab Countries.

Furthermore, the conflict deeply affected trade relations. According to the Brazilian Agency of Communications, exports to Syria reduced more than US$ 200 million in the period between 2010 and 2011, which raises food security concerns because most Brazilian exports are agricultural commodities.

According to Brazilian Defense Minister Celso Amorin, Brazil is not a small country, nor does it adopt a small foreign policy. Although Brazilian diplomatic responses to the Arab Spring have been deeply criticized for being reactionary, it aims to strengthen institutions with partners, as well as focusing on negotiated solutions, thereby prioritizing peaceful multilateral actions.

Moreover, Brazil understands that regime change and the effective implementation of democratic institutions vary in its scope and time-frame. Taking in consideration that each conflict has its peculiarities, Brazil supports bottom-up solutions, where third-party military intervention under the R2P concept should only be applied when all other peaceful arrangements have expired.

Hence Brazil’s diplomatic approach to inter-sectarian conflicts is rather prudent, based on the tradition of multilateralism and dialogue.

Tamara Santos is an independent researcher. She earned a BA in International Relations from La Salle University and a MA in Conflict Resolution in Divided Societies from King’s College, London. Follow her on twitter @tamara_ds. Read more articles by Tamara.