How to ride the Revolutionary Arab Lion

Posted in Broader Middle East | 07-Jan-13 | Author: Stephen Calleya and Ludger Kuehnhardt

The West should reflect the Arab Spring from its potential, not from its limits - Realism yes, skepticism no; long-term commitment yes, abstention no.

arab spring
As the second decade of the new millennium commences, the Mediterranean must avoid becoming a permanent fault-line between the prosperous North and an impoverished South. The key development to watch in the emerging Mediterranean in the next decade will be to see whether the phase of cooperation between Europe and the Arab world that has dominated post-Cold War relations to date is consolidated by tangible measures to enhance political reform that is underway as a result of the Arab Spring of 2011.

History as unpredictable new beginning

The anti-authoritarian Arab Spring has started as an enthusiastic new beginning in 2011. Within a year it has turned into a multitude of frustrations, concerns, difficulties and skepticism. The main driving force of the Arab Spring has not lost its importance: a new beginning for human dignity of the Arab people. The many obstacles and difficulties that have occurred since the beginning of the claim for freedom and dignity across the Arab world should not come as a surprise: no human transformation of such a magnitude would be easy. Challenges and backlashes have occurred, at times almost inevitable. And yet: the long-term objective should not get lost. It remains essential to understand the Arab Spring from its opportunities instead of getting trapped by its limits. The ownership of the Arab people over the future emulation of their dignity and social transformation is of a huge historic magnitude unprecedented in the history of the Arab civilization in centuries.

The Arab world has been undergoing the first phases of a transformation that may last for many years to come, in some cases even decades. The development across the Arab world has been defined by an increasing differentiation. Each country is different, each society reacts differently to change, each state has adopted different strategies to accommodate the forces of change and to cope with the resilient powers of continuity and status quo.  Each Arab country has been undergoing a genuine path of transformation. None of these paths  is completed or can already be called a sustained success or a lasting failure. New political forces have clashed with old loyalties and bonds of power. Acts of violence and hopes of non-violence have occurred. New political factors have emerged, and groups with old and new visions for the future of their societies. The Arab  Spring has brought awakening of all sorts but less so its consolidated continuation in a stable summer of constitutional democracy and solidified pluralism. The political agenda has been overshadowed by economic discrepancies. The call for freedom has given way to the quest for justice. And freedom has paved the way for new voices with messages that have raised hope for some and fear for others. 

In contrast stands the overall reaction of the non-Arab neighbors. Europe has offered a helping hand for the promotion of democratic governance yet remains trapped in the usual approach which is so bureaucratic that the message gets lost in the details of technical projects. The worry about the revival of Islamic political movements has overshadowed a more subtle analysis of the societal and political forces that are involved in the ongoing transformation. Israel is more worried about political freedom in the Arab world than it was for years about military pressure from the Arab world. The US is supporting rule of law, transition and governance, yet like the other "Western" reactions to the Arab Spring, the trend is more to stand at the sidelines instead of engaging with the waves of transformation.

Geographical proximity and stability in the Mediterranean dictates that the EU needs to try and influence regional dynamics in the Middle East more systematically than it has been in recent years. Failure to do so will continue to stifle attempts to strengthen Euro-Mediterranean relations through the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership agenda that now also encompasses the Union for the Mediterranean agenda and will also have a negative impact on the EU’s Neighbourhood Policy agenda that is currently being implemented.

All extra regional actors, with an interest in ensuring that future Euro-Mediterranean relations remain peaceful and more prosperous, including the United States must act to ensure that the Middle East is not left to collapse as a result of an attitude of indifference. International organizations must guard against adopting an attitude of indifference when it comes to securing a peaceful future for this region. The outcome of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other regional conflicts across the Middle East will have a major bearing on the future direction of twenty-first century international relations, including of course, those of the Mediterranean. One cannot overemphasize the strategic significance of this region when providing an assessment of countering sources of insecurity in post cold war relations.

When it comes to identifying a way forward to enhancing regional cooperation in the Mediterranean both the European Union and the Arab world need to conduct a critical reassessment of regional cooperation.  Regional cooperation is not an aim in itself.  It has to be pursued with a clear strategy, clearly defined objectives and instruments to advance long-term objectives, and a clear sense of priorities.  What sort of regional cooperation makes sense? Where is a chance of advancing?

A road map that stipulates short, medium, and long-term phases of region-building is necessary if progress is to be registered in establishing a Euro-Mediterranean community of values. All international institutions with a Mediterranean dimension should provide their think tank platform to map out such a strategy so that a Union for the Mediterranean (UfM) of diverse states becomes a reality in future.

As the second decade of the new millennium commences, the Mediterranean must avoid becoming a permanent fault-line between the prosperous North and an impoverished South. The key development to watch in the emerging Mediterranean in the next decade will be to see whether the phase of cooperation between Europe and the Arab world that has dominated post-Cold War relations to date is consolidated by tangible measures to enhance political reform that is underway as a result of the Arab Spring of 2011. If such an opportunity is not grasped, political paralysis coupled by economic stagnation could lead to a scenario where a clash of cultures takes hold and disorder dominates Mediterranean relations. Such a scenario of instability and uncertainty will stifle the economic growth and political stability that is necessary to improve the standard of living of all peoples across the Mediterranean.

The only way this future can be avoided is if the European Union's external policy towards the Mediterranean succeeds in attracting the interest of international institutions such as the World Bank, OECD, and the IMF and persuades them to become more altruistic in their dealings with the region. The Mediterranean countries themselves must also adopt more of a self-help mentality. Rather than undermine or diminish the significance of the EU in the Mediterranean, the growing socio-economic disparities across the Mediterranean underlines further the significance of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership agenda as outlined in the Barcelona Declaration of November 1995, the only multilateral process of its kind in the area.

The more recent Union for the Mediterranean agenda and European Neighbourhood Policy Reviews of 2011 and 2012 must aim at reviving and recalibrating the Euro-Med Partnership by building on the political and security perspective enshrined in the Barcelona Declaration. The ENP Review offers an opportunity to spur the resurgence of sub regionalism – intensify sub regionalism and bilateral interplay in the Mediterranean. It also offers the chance to map out a more action oriented and more target focused agenda. The ENP Review towards the Mediterranean will only succeed if matched by leadership and political will that succeeds in engaging all European Union and Mediterranean states to work together to address the long list of security challenges across the Mediterranean area.

The West is overly sensitive not to get caught in a new form of paternalism, let alone neo-colonialism. Of course, it is the Arab world that is recalibrating the parameters of its future and the Arab people must definitely be in the driver's seat. Yet, standing at the sidelines alone is not enough. Worst is the danger of getting trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy: The more the West debates possible negative outcomes of the Arab Spring, the less one should be surprised if it happens. The West needs a strategic perspective to properly engage with the potential of the Arab spring and not to get frustrated by its difficulties and limits. Some red lines are evident: no politically motivated violence is acceptable; no governance without recognizing social pluralism is acceptable; no infringement on human rights of all, including and especially social minorities, is acceptable. But beyond these basics of a mutually shared civilizational code, the West is best advised to recognize the diversity is in the Arab world. The West should also stop comparing its own realities as the only viable bench-mark for assessing the parameters of a good future of the Arab world.

As for the European Union it should become more pragmatic and more focused. Europe cannot wait to reach out for the Arab world until the Arab transformation is consolidated. Had the Western powers waited for Germany to be a consolidated democracy without any residual element of the Nazi dictatorship, the European Union would not have been created until today. In the late 1940s, early 1950s, the Western countries - and especially France and the United States - reached out to give the new Germany a chance before it was truly consolidated and had become a solidly transformed democracy and successful market economy. This strategic decision was visionary and far-reaching. It has created the parameters of the post-World War II order that has become a second chance for Europe after its self-destruction during the first half of the twentieth-century. 

The historic developments that have taken place in the Maghreb and Mashreq since 2011 have not yet triggered the launching of policy mechanisms that would create a more conducive landscape within which a pan-Mediterranean security arrangement could take shape. A serious international effort to support political and economic reform across the southern shore of the Mediterranean would require the equivalent to the launching of a Marshall Plan type mechanism for the Mediterranean that consistently and continuously supported reform and sought to integrate this grouping of states into the system of developed states.

A Marshall Plan for the Mediterranean would send a strong signal that the international community is serious about helping southern Mediterranean states improve their political and economic outlook. Providing the necessary massive foreign direct investment and supporting the establishment of institutions that will guarantee the rule of law and the safeguarding of human rights will serve as stepping stones towards the creation of a more interconnected Mediterranean political and economic region. Up to December 2012 no action taken by any international actor has adopted such a modality of action. Instead, efforts adopted have largely focused on managing the transition taking place and containing any sources of instability such as the flow of displaced persons.

Europe in face of three options

Right now, Europe has three options in strategically dealing with the revolutionary upheavals in the Arab world and their ongoing uncertainties:

Wait and see: This strategy ensures that the EU does not make an active mistake. It prevents taking risks and hence it might serve the interest of a politics of tacit consent with the effects of something that happiness outside the influence of Europe. This strategy would however, undermine the ability of the European Union to engage in a constructive way with the current contradictions happening in the Arab world. This may be justifiable as a strategy of generous abstention and could, at best, be understood as alternative to past projections of Europe as being imperial, arrogant and self-serving. It could, however, also be seen as just this: while Europe is enjoying the benefits of two generations of peace and prosperity, it steps aside as its direct Arab neighbors are struggling with their own past in order to move toward a better future. This parochialism could be understood as the most subtle form of arrogance yet.

Adopting an attitude of indifference will ultimately lead to two outcomes. First, the peoples of the southern shore of the Mediterranean will be able to confirm that the EU is not credible when it claims to support liberal values and human rights. By not supporting the Arab states going through the difficult process of democratic transition the EU will be enhancing the perception that Europe is not serious about wanting to engage further with its southern Mediterranean neighbours. Second, adopting a wait and see attitude is certain to lead to a failure of democratic reform in the Mediterranean. Left on their own, the Arab states are unlikely to have the technical and financial resources required necessary to be able to implement a process of reform.

Ritualistic engagement with the ruling elites: This strategy focuses on stability, has been discredited in its past version by the suddenness of the outbreak of the Arab Spring, but might serve its purpose in the future. After all, any revolutionary change will conclude with a new structure of power. For external players, solid relations with those representing this new social contract  - no matter what its content might be - could be helpful in managing diplomatic ties and eventually economic self-interests. This strategy, however, bears two fundamental dangers. First, it does not respect the very impulse that has triggered the Arab Spring: the quest for Arab dignity. The quest for dignity is rooted in the midst of the Arab society and only this civil society will be able to uphold the legacy of this quest. Any diplomatic activity that does not respect this basic fact could be criticized for disrespecting the Arab street. Secondly, in its nature, the Arab Spring is generating new social forces - Islamic and others - that will not be covered by a diplomatic outreach toward newly emerging regimes. Without a full engagement of the civil society of the emerging new Arab world, the European Union will remain an outsider and at best an observer albeit not an engaged partner for a reciprocally connected future.           

Pro-active engagement with the civil society: This strategy requires the highest degree of flexibility, the highest readiness to take risks due to changing structures and actors, and the least predictable short-term outcome. Civil society is a new concept in the social history of most Arab nations. The inclusive understanding of nationhood has generated state-centered nations in which social groups were defined by their degree of loyalty to the system and their degree of power projection within the ruling framework. With the Arab Spring, a new dimension of social development has begun to emerge: a pluralistic, politicized yet not necessarily state-centered civil society. This civil society is new and fragile, it will alter its focus and composition, it may face challenges by those who see it as a threat to their management of structures of state power - or to the contrary: civil society may redefine the parameters of state politics and even constitutional order in unprecedented ways. As nothing is going to be stable - probably for a whole generation to come - a civil society-oriented strategy is the best guarantee to stay close to the forces of change while it also generates the highest risk of losing connections once new trends, actors and groups emerge.

The option No. 1 leaves the EU at the sidelines of history. The option No. 2 leaves the definition of the criteria, objectives and instruments of cooperation by and large in the hands of the emerging new regimes in the Arab world. The option No. 3 engages civil society in Europe and in the Arab world potentially on an equal footing.

Tunisia as test case for Europe as a community of values.

The awakening in the Arab world puts Europe to the test: Will it conceptualize its Arab neighbors as a continuous matter of concern, or even a matter of threat, or will Europe engage with the Arabs in their efforts to make the historic transformation that has only begun work and succeed - in their mutual interest? The European Union should identify its long term strategic interests and link them with a clear strategy for advancing the very substance of the Arab Spring: promoting human dignity among Arab people. The European Union must take the quest for dignity serious. No matter its current state and potential outcome, the vision of the Arab Spring puts the European Union's claim of being a community of values to the test. 

In order to respond with more focus and long-term strategy, the EU should set an example and identify Tunisia as the main target of a proactive policy of commitment, engagement and partnership. Instead of waiting that violence has come to an end in Syria or in Bahrain, instead of waiting how the political landscape will develop in Egypt or Yemen, instead of waiting for Libya to consolidate state structures and Algeria to even begin its transformation, instead of waiting for the Gulf monarchies to make up their mind regarding their long-term role in the Arab Spring and for the future of relations with the West, the European Union should be much more forthcoming in engaging with Tunisia.

Such a strategy can perhaps best be described as introducing a serious Agenda for Action that is mapped out on the premise of common interests and of not only focusing on our common history but on a common cooperative future. It should advocate the urgent necessity to take advantage of the historic moment that changes in the Arab World have created since 2011 and underlines the importance of not allowing this window of opportunity to pass us by.

The EUis in an excellent geo-political position as a result of its geographic proximity but also because of its more than twenty years of partnership relations to launch such an initiative. As a first step announce the hosting of an International Donor Conference for Tunisia that seeks to attract international attention including the support of the USA, the Gulf States, (the League of Arab States) and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). The strategic objective should be to ensure that initiatives such as the so-called Privileged Partnership that focus on the theme of Money, Mobility and Markets does not just become a hollow undertaking.

If the transformation in the Arab world is to move in a positive direction that provides the peoples of these countries a more peaceful and prosperous future then urgent attention should be dedicated to ensuring that the country where the first revolution took place, Tunisia, is successful in its reform process. A concerted plan of action shoulde focus on addressing numerous important areas including that of providing assistance in their daunting task of implementing political reforms that establish the rule of law and an independent judiciary. Other areas that require immediate attention include creating a more functional Euro-Mediterranean migration policy that includes the facilitation of visa issuing and introducing a more dynamic Euro-Mediterranean education policy that awards thousands of scholarships to students so they can study anywhere in the region.

The strategy must be people-centered. As much as the Arab Spring is about renewed dignity of the Arab people, any effort to advance this promise must begin with the life-agenda of the people - and not with complex, abstract and policy-related formulas: respecting the youth of Tunisia and its future requires more investment into education, infrastructure and technology in order to generate a functional elite that will be able to gain employment and promote economic prosperity. This is the key to a better life for each young Tunisian, to a more inclusive nature of the Tunisian society, to more relaxation on the migration pressure and to a partnership based on respect, ambition and success between Tunisia and the European Union. Tunisia's young people need to be able to establish their own family or maintain the family they already have. Their children need the infrastructure, in housing, health, education and labor market that will generate the sense of ownership to turn them from consuming subjects to working and producing citizens.

The European Union needs to implement a human-centered, pro-active and engaging strategy. Most importantly: it needs to connect this strategy to the discourse about the future of Europe. Tunisia's future - as much as that of the other Arab countries - is not about Tunisia alone - or for that matter about the Arab world alone. The future of Tunisia and of the Arab world is also about the future of Europe - and vice versa. During the decades of the Cold War, Europe has proven to think strategic because Europe - as well as the United States - has thought in categories of enlightened self-interest. Since the end of the Cold War - after all almost a generation ago - Europe has not understood to fully generate a specific global and foreign policy matter out of the reflection about Europe's self-interest. In part, the economic discourse about globalization has been able to do so - only to be tamed by that half of the discourse that identifies globalization with an agenda of fear for Europe's own economic future. The European Union needs to start with its strategy on the Arab awakening from the premise that the success of the Arab Spring is in the enlightened self-interest of the European Union and its citizens: Dignity among Arabs makes Europeans proud, too. Stable and good governance, participatory democracy and solid rule of law in the Arab world makes Europe more stable and therefore proud to be the Arab's neighbor. Successful Arab economies make Europe more successful in advancing the potential of competitiveness in the modern world, to use the market potential of the Arab world while simultaneously receiving itself the effects of  reverse innovation and export products from the Arab neighbors as a natural and necessary element of a "give-and-take-neighbourhood-relationship". This, after all, is what the future of Euro-Mediterranean and Euro-Arab-relations should be all about.

What is at stake for Europe

Taking the right stand now is f historic importance for decades to come. The Arab world may not Westernize as a consequence of the current awakening. It may have to go, at least in some parts, through a period of criticizing modernization from above as has been practiced by some of the ousted regimes. The Arab world has to undergo intensive reflections in order to balance a pious religious identity with modern political liberalism and pluralistic notions of society. The Arab world has to go through enormous transitions to move from a rent-seeking economy to a productive modern economy free from monopolies and inclusive in its outreach toward the new and demanding generations. All these processes culminate in the quest for consolidated democratic constitutionalism. Only after several free elections and shifts in power one can talk of a consolidated democracy. The Arab world has a long way to go to meet the requirements of this benchmark. But Europe, the West as a whole, should stay side by side with those struggling for universal values and norms which are by no means Western and hence inappropriate for the Arab world.

The struggle of radical Islamists against the powerful forces of modernization, capitalism and globalisation is not a new phenomenon. Resistance to change has taken place at regular intervals. However, even the Chinese have understood that while it is possible to have capitalism without political liberalisation, it is much more difficult to have capitalism without cultural liberalisation. This is lesson that all southern shore Mediterranean states would be wise to grasp.

The main reason why political movements such as Al Qaeda will not succeed in their mission statement to reject modernity and democracy across the Maghreb and Mashreq is because their societies do not want to go back to the way of life of 1,400 years before. Most Arab states remain allied to the United States. Morocco, Tunisia, Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the GCC states, and now also Iraq – all Maghreb and Mashreq states are also aligned to the European Union through its numerous regional initiatives including the European Neighbourhood Policy, the Euro-Med Partnership and the more recent Union for the Mediterranean.

Europe has lived two decades of self-centeredness. Since the end of the Cold War, Europe was primarily occupied with itself. The introduction of the Euro, the successful integration of 10 post-communist countries into the European Union, the advancement of the European constitutionalization through the Lisbon Treaty, the struggle with the biggest economic crises in decades and a structural sovereign debt crisis that has exacerbated skepticism about the whole project of European integration more than in any other moment in its history - these have been enormous challenges for Europe.

Yet, the past two decades were all in all good, stable and positive years for most of Europe's citizens. Europe could think that it had achieved what it wanted to achieve. The times of trouble induced from the outside seemed over - and as a consequence Europe tended to become myopic, shying away from its inherent interconnectedness with other regions of the world. Sure, there was globalization, but it only reinforced the inward-looking nature of many Europeans in that they were looking for protection against the potential challenges globalization produces beside its opportunities. Europe seemed increasingly to have lost strategic centrality but it had gained internal cohesion and normalcy. This was and is no little success, given the upheavals and turbulences in Europe's long history.

The Arab uprisings of 2011 highlight that no programme will be sustainable in the long-term unless it is based on consensus, legitimacy and pays attention to the limits of tolerance of society. Policymakers need to pay more attention to what people want and what is preventing them from obtaining their goals. It is not really a question of time limits but which policies are required to achieve the goals being sought. A gradualist approach is perhaps a better option as it will allow reasonable time for society to be able to adapt and cope with the changes that are being proposed and introduced. It is crucial for policy-makers to create win-win situations where all sectors of society are able to benefit.

Almost two decades have passed since the signing of the Barcelona Declaration in November 1995, when the Foreign Ministers of the EU and their counterparts from twelve Mediterranean countries pledged to progressively establish a Euro-Mediterranean area of peace, stability and prosperity at the horizon of 2020. Since then, profoundly asymmetrical developments in the EU and the Mediterranean have taken place: an EU frantically struggling to keep up with the constraints of globalisation, a Mediterranean falling further behind.

In recent years the EU has been moving into new areas. It has undertaken three major constitutional reforms, the Amsterdam, Nice and Lisbon Treaties. It has successfully introduced a common currency, the Euro. It has virtually completed its single market for goods, services, capital and people. It has started to develop a common security machinery. The EU has also made great strides towards a common area of law and security and it has set itself the objective to become a knowledge society and a common area of research and science by 2020. The European Union has also proceeded with its 6th enlargement in 2007. The accession of twelve new member states since 2004 has resulted in a fundamental transformation process of the EU at an economic, social and political level of operation. 

During the same period, most of the EU`s Mediterranean partner countries have moved ahead very slowly. The prosperity gap with Europe, especially Central European countries, has further widened. It would have widened even further without the positive fluctuations in the price of oil from time to time and a significant slowdown of demographic growth.

Integrating the Mediterranean into the twenty-first century international system through forward looking mechanisms that embrace the strategic objectives outlined in the Barcelona Declaration of November 1995 and a sustainable Middle East Peace Process is the immediate challenge that the international community must confront. Otherwise transnational sources of instability emanating from the Mediterranean will continue to manifest themselves at a regional and international level and the perceptual and prosperity gap between the southern and northern shores of the Mediterranean will further widen. 

The concept of regionalism in international relations denotes an intensity in the pattern of relations between states that are geographically proximate to one another. Such a pattern of interaction can take place at different levels including the political, economic or cultural level.

In the Mediterranean such patterns of interaction have largely taken place at a sub-regional level, that is, not across the Mediterranean basin but in different pockets of this geographical space. Thus while an increase in the intensity of interaction has been evident in southern Europe, the Balkans, the Maghreb and the Mashreq, there has been no major tend towards an intensity of interaction between the sub regions of the Mediterranean.

Before closing the gap between the northern and southern shores of the Mediterranean can be successfully implemented there is thus a necessity to build and nurture both a mental conceptual blueprint and physical infrastructure of regionalism in the Mediterranean. In other words, the peoples of the Mediterranean need to believe that they share more than a common history, but that they also share a common destiny, be it at a political, economic or cultural level of analysis. To date, this is not the case.

A dynamic Euro-Mediterranean region would be one where the necessary political will is invested by all countries in the basin and those extra-regional actors with an interest in the Mediterranean. The goal would be to create a more interactive political, economic and cultural unitary framework that connects Europe to the Middle East and Africa and the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean in a more systematic and regulated manner. In a globalized world a common regional platform that ensures stability is essential if the Mediterranean is to continue to prosper. The Euro-Med Partnership and Union for the Mediterranean follow up should be regarded as vehicles of regional promotion that are seeking to enhance political and economic relations between the countries across the basin.

If more attention towards the Mediterranean is to be forthcoming it is crucial that more awareness is raised about the reality that there can be no security and stability in Europe if there is no security and stability along the southern shores of the Mediterranean. If the European Union cannot successfully project policies of stability in its immediate neighbourhood across the Mediterranean, its more ambitious goal of becoming a global source of stability will remain a fallacy. European Union policy towards the Mediterranean must thus be seen as a litmus test of the European Union’s objective of assisting in the improvement of livelihoods in states that border its own member states. Moreover, the Euro-Mediterranean track record will also have a major bearing on the extent to which the European Union is able to influence positively development in Africa and the Middle East.