The first thing you often hear from someone dealing with the Middle East’s Sphinx-like riddles is that there is no easy exit from its current political quagmire, that the often impenetrable different religious and social dynamics represent an insurmountable wall.
Many consider that this wonderful area of the world is doomed to eternal instability and internal civil strife (fitnah in arabic); unfortunately, during recent decades, this self-fulfilling prophecy unfailingly has become only too real. Putting aside this counterproductive pessimism, we will try to re-think the EU’s role in the region – from re-active to pro-active, from irresolute to assertive – and, finally, see why Europe should play an effective part in this puzzling reality, bearing in mind that political stability, human security and peace will undoubtedly benefit the life of millions of people – wherever they are.
Human rights and fundamental freedoms are often side-lined when it comes to policy-making: a worrying misconception often materialises when it’s time to take relevant political decisions in foreign affairs; this unwholesome idea depicts a human rights–centred approach in international relations as an obstacle to dealing with other nations, a nuisance, something that does not favour the ties between two states. As many civil wars not so distant from our shores underline, we live in a—too much and too often—cynical world where power, anarchy, and self-interest dominate. But the time has come for Europe to speak up, finally.
The EU’s new role should be adopted precisely at a time when our leaders seem not to know how to develop a coherent and comprehensive alternative to the current region’s stalemate – even if they should because it is in time of crises and insecurity (political, social and economic) that history changes course.
|Ludovico De Angelis|
The great leap in this respect would be to understand that by contributing to solving the region’s numerous problems we could finally address many of our own internal deficencies that, little by little, are eroding our confidence/substance and that eventually may collapse the European project: by acting jointly while dealing with the many challenges affecting the Middle East – from civil wars and human rights violations to climate change—we could affirm or shape our own identity on the international scene—we could (finally) be: it is worth reminding that we are what we do, not what we say we do but, importantly, we are when we do together.
As Zygmunt Bauman often points out: “There are no local solutions to globally generated troubles”. The security, political and governmental spillovers of the MENA region’s destabilizing factors compel us to extend (and improve) our actions abroad, we must go – and act – beyond our borders, and we must do it together. Europe should be proactive in its relations with the MENA area, but this doesn’t mean that we will have to play the role of regional leader (we should not harbour neocon-like hegemonic ambitions); quite the contrary, in this effort there will be no followers or followed because the principles guiding this transition would be based on clarity and assertiveness, agreeing to create a mutually assured partnership.
The range of thorny issues is enormous: for instance, even though population growth is not a problem per se, this phenomenon may become a challenge when a given population is also young, politically dissatisfied (i.e. unrepresented), underemployed or unemployed. In a given country, large parts of the unemployed are also college-educated and a constant increase in food and fuel prices helps to augment the general entropy, increasing the scale of complexity, challenge and also dissatisfaction with the authorities. What’s the outcome, then? The Egyptian Arab spring.
Past events—like that Arab spring—teach us that preventing instability is a key issue for Europe’s own security: instability brings with it a political – and ideological – vacuum, that may be used by jihadi-salafi groups to find legitimacy among the disillusioned and alienated population. In this respect, the Syrian case, with its wide spectrum of both national and trans-national jihadi groups, embodies the non plus ultra of this condition.
There may be no fixed paradigms and predetermined realities in the many issues affecting the Middle East. But recently published researches have underlined four trends that characterize the region’s disorder: the erosion of state capacity, the securitization of regime policies – “the act of moving a challenge from the sphere of normal politics to the sphere of security” (protesters are suppressed violently because the government perceives them as an existential threat), the militarization of contentious politics (states use military power to settle their disputes) and the pluralization of collective identities (MENA is a region with many ethnic, religious and political dynamics but too few states—carved up by colonial powers—to represent all of them fairly).
The 2011 upheavals, from Syria and Egypt to the lesser-known protests that took place in Saudi Arabia, were often triggered by a lack of representation and a demand for inclusiveness. For these reasons, in the medium-run, the EU’s external action should be aimed at helping to create the necessary political conditions through which minorities, vulnerable and marginalised groups find peaceful ways to express their frustrations and dissatisfactions: meanwhile, Europe will also have to forge institutions capable of absorbing and overcoming destabilizing crises.
This effort can only be fulfilled when civil, political, social and economic rights are upheld. For this very reason, raising public awareness of political rights in the region will be pivotal in promoting a fairer and more representative society: empowering civil society and holding governments to account for human rights violations is fundamental, bearing in mind that since we share the same geopolitical space, MENA stability is Europe’s security.
After all, Europe should be committed to pacification and stabilisation, security and rights promotion, favouring the settlement of disputes through multilateral organizations and – whenever necessary – mediate between different parties so as to prevent or de-escalate a conflict, while strengthening national capacities to reduce a country’s risk of (re)lapsing into conflict. It’s only by becoming a trusted (and useful) interlocutor for the whole MENA that we might represent a valid alternative to the great powers’ hard power, which so far has failed to deliver a stable region, triggering a vicious cycle of violence, anarchy and human insecurity.
By Ludovico De Angelis (is a MA graduand in International Relations at RomaTre University, Rome, Italy) - Source of article Social Europe