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Perceptions of EU foreign policy in the MENA region

Image courtesy of Wasfi Akab/Flickr. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

This article was originally published by openDemocracy on 12 August 2017.

In Arab countries, the EU is not seen as providing stability or promoting democracy. Asked what policies the EU should prioritise, survey respondents wanted ‘economic support’ and ‘economic development’.

Findings from the 2014 ArabTrans research in six MENA countries – Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia – shed light on what citizens think of the EU and whether its policies address their concerns. The EU recognised at the time of the Arab Uprisings that its policies had failed the people of the region and in 2011 it declared an intent to focus on promoting deep and sustainable democracy and inclusive economic development.

However, in practice the EU did not adapt its policy to address popular demands for social justice and economic rights but continued to promote a narrow procedural definition of democracy, to support authoritarian rulers and to implement liberal economic policies that have proved not to support economic development. This inability to address the structural causes of economic and political polarisation pose a serious risk to the Union’s long-term goals in the region.

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Iran, Turkey, and the Non-Arab Street

Protestors clash with Turkish riot policemen on the way to Taksim Square in Istanbul on June 5, 2013

To Western eyes, Middle East politics have again been stood on their head. Iran’s theocratic mullahs allowed the election of Hassan Rowhani, a man who announced in his first speech as President-elect that his victory is “the victory of wisdom, moderation, and awareness over fanaticism and bad behavior.”

Iranians, apparently surprised that the candidate whom a majority of them had backed (over six harder-line candidates) had won, poured into the streets and hailed a victory “for the people.” To be sure, it was a carefully controlled election: all candidates who might actually have challenged Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s authority were disqualified in advance. But, within those limits, the government allowed the people’s votes to be counted. » More

Arab States of Uncertainty

Tahrir Flags

Tahrir Flags. Photo: AK Rockefeller/flickr.

MADRID – The revolutions that swept the Arab world during the last two years have exposed the extraordinary fragility of key Arab states. With the exception of historical countries such as Egypt or Morocco, most Arab states are artificial constructs of European colonialism, which combined disparate tribes and ethnicities into unitary states that could be held together only by authoritarian rule and a common enemy – Zionism and its Western patrons.

Today’s turmoil, however, is no longer driven by anger at foreign forces; instead, it marks a second phase of the de-colonization process: the assertion of the right of self-determination by peoples and tribes united only by a dictator’s yoke. Indeed, it is not entirely farfetched to anticipate the emergence of new Arab states from the debris of the old, artificial ones. The American invasion of Iraq set the pattern, for it broke the central government’s power and empowered ethnic and religious enclaves.

What happened in Yugoslavia, an ill-conceived product of Wilsonian diplomacy, could happen in the more cynical imperial creations in the Middle East. What Sigmund Freud defined as “the narcissism of minor differences” caused Yugoslavia to split into seven small states (including Kosovo), following the bloodiest fighting in Europe since World War II. Can the Arab states avoid a similar fate? » More

Swiss Humanitarian Aid: Sharing Responsibility

Workshop on making metal silos for grain storage, Kenya. Image from cimmyt/Flickr.

Drought forces thousands of people to cross the border from Somalia to Kenya every day. Violence erupts in a refugee camp in Ethiopia due to insufficient shelter. Rebel groups evict people from their homes. Insufficient water supply causes death and illness. Children turn to painting to depict the trauma caused by the massacres which they have witnessed.

The Annual Conference of the Humanitarian Aid held in Basel on 23 March 2012 addressed these issues under the motto “sharing responsibility” and explored how Switzerland can help to relieve people from such suffering. » More

Making Sense of the Arab Spring

Arab spring, not flower revolution: Fawaz A Gerges (LSE) and Volker Perthes (SWP) on the opening panel of the 2011 International Security Forum. Photo: Tim Wendel/ISN

On Wednesday, 1 June, the 9th International Security Forum closed its doors to three days of intense political debate and passionate shoulder rubbing. The highlights were many and varied, yet the 450 participants will surely keep the fondest memories of the event’s first panel discussion, which put the conference on the right track, and set the tone for the following days.

“‘Let’s import a new government’ labor activists joked. This was after the regime threatened to import workers from Bangladesh, if we asked for higher wages”. Nehad Abul Komsan from the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights (ECWR) described the Egyptian revolution on the opening panel last Monday. Hosni Mubarak is gone but problems remain. According to Yossi Alpher from bitterlemons publications the socio-economic troubles, which are partially responsible for the upheaval in Northern Africa and the Middle East, will continue to pose a big challenge for any new leadership.

John W Limbert from the US Naval Academy examined Iran’s role in the Arab Spring in his statement. As in the past, Iran seems to be excluded from progressive developments taking place in its neighborhood. “Tunisia could, Iran not” is a slogan among Iranian progressives, who are again frustrated by their country’s backwardness. Ambassador Limbert went as far as to say that Iran’s leadership is humiliated by regional developments. It did not even manage to protect its Shiite fellows in Bahrain. » More

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