Thursday

26th Apr 2018

Opinion

How the Arab Spring can save Europe's international ambitions

One of the most striking elements of the outside involvement in the Arab Spring is the failure of the Obama administration to develop a comprehensive approach in dealing with the uprisings.

The United States is unable to truly champion freedom and democracy, largely due to its close relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. This provides opportunities for other actors – such as the European Union or China – to upgrade its engagement with the region.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • Obama (r) talks to fallen Egyptian dictator Mubarak before the revolution in Egypt (Photo: White House)

The legitimate uprising against minority dictatorship in Bahrain is largely ignored by Washington, which fears losing the headquarters of its fifth fleet in Manama. When Saudi tanks crossed the bridge to crush the Shi’a uprising in Bahrain, Obama kept silent not wanting to alienate Riyadh. And most important of all, American ties with Israel are unwavering despite the continued occupation and settlement activity. These developments continue to contaminate the image of Obama in the region.

When speaking to Arab friends – both Muslims and Christians – about the role of the US, the usual reply is “double standards” often followed by the remark that Obama is no different from Bush. “At least with Bush you knew what you got”.

Obama raised the hope of the Arab street with his famous 2009 Cairo speech, in which he talked about restoring relations between the West and Muslim world and even used the term "Palestine" – a significant change in discourse and unprecedented for an American president.

Recent polls by the Arab American Institute Foundation indicate that 90 percent of the Egyptian people believe that Obama has not met the standards that he set in his speech two years ago. Even in Arab states aligned to the US, a large majority of the population does not agree with current American policies. From Morocco to UAE, less than ten percent support Obama’s policies.

These developments create space for other actors to engage in the region. This void could in the long run be occupied by China, possibly endangering the potential for democracy to flourish. But it could also be filled by the EU building strategic ties with the new Middle East.

The EU's reputation in the Middle East is not tainted by unquestioned support for Israel. Unlike the US, the EU is able to stand for peace and justice, freedom and democracy, rather than with one of the belligerent parties involved.

The current uprising is reminiscent of 1789. The Arab Spring is their "Bastille", knocking at the gates of dictatorship and oppression. This shared experience could serve to cement mutual understanding and provide the ideological foundation for a mode of governing that respects the desires of its citizens.

Due to its relatively clean reputation, the EU could dare to step out of the shadow of the US and develop its own comprehensive approach to the region. The European External Action Service is an ideal instrument in this regard.

This approach could entail capturing the role of ‘honest broker’ in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, mediating between both parties. After all, the EU can pride itself with longstanding experience in extensive and successful post-conflict resolution. It should transcend its usual shyness when dealing with conflict resolution in the Middle East and try to find new paths to facilitate diplomacy.

Furthermore, the comprehensive approach could include assistance with political liberalisation and Security Sector Reform. Although the security sector in this region will likely be hesitant to reform – as it often has economic and political interests - post-Arab Spring states will require aid in changing the undemocratic government structures that have been fostered by previous dictators.

Part of this approach includes fostering political liberalisation through support for civil society, such as free press and non-governmental organisations. Independent journalism and NGOs in the region are scarce and require a supportive environment unrestricted by government practices. It is up to the EU to stress its importance and invest in this vital aspect of society.

Furthermore, good relations between Europe and the Middle East on the political front will likely also have economic ramifications. The EU should therefore support a comprehensive approach of political and economic liberalisation and recognize the legitimate aspirations for all people to live in dignity and prosperity.

If the EU manages to develop and implement such a strategic approach it will not only protect the region from greater Chinese influence in the long run, but also give meaning to its own international ambitions. The Arab Spring therefore provides the ideal opportunity for the EU to maintain an important player in world politics.

The writer is a political analyst from the Netherlands and regularly blogs about EU-Middle East relations: annobunnik.wordpress.com

Israel seeks Kosovo-type EU split on Palestine

Israel is targeting Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia in an attempt to split the EU on giving full UN recognition to Palestine.

How Russian propaganda depicts Europe - should we worry?

Russian domestic television - the only source of foreign news for most Russians - consistently shows Europe over-run by immigrants, beset by terrorist atrocities, and on strike. This has serious consequences.

More commitment to renewables from Council, please

More and more consumers are likely to invest in solar panels in the future as it becomes simpler to produce one's own electricity, writes Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation.

News in Brief

  1. UN expects over $4bn in pledges for Syria
  2. Commission wants more public data made available for reuse
  3. Study: Brexit will hit all European farmers
  4. European media face rise in 'verbal violence' from politicians
  5. Greenland PM to keep power despite poll slump
  6. Commissioner optimistic on FYROM name solution
  7. Italian court keeps NGO migrant rescue boat docked
  8. German Jews warned not to wear skullcap in public

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Sustainable Energy Week 2018"Lead the Clean Energy Transition"- Register and Join Us in Brussels from 5 to 7 May
  2. EU Green Week 2018Green Cities for a Greener Future. Join the Debate in Brussels from 22 to 24 May
  3. Nordic Council of Ministers12 Recommendations for Nordic Leadership on Climate and Environment
  4. Macedonian Human Rights MovementOxford Professor Calls for an End to the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  5. ACCAPeople Who Speak-Up Should Feel Safe to Do So
  6. Mission of China to the EUProgress on China-EU Cooperation
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersWorld's Energy Ministers to Meet in Oresund in May to Discuss Green Energy
  8. ILGA EuropeParabéns! Portugal Votes to Respect the Rights of Trans and Intersex People
  9. Mission of China to the EUJobs, Energy, Steel: Government Work Report Sets China's Targets
  10. Martens CentreJoin Us at NET@WORK2018 Featuring Debates on Migration, Foreign Policy, Populism & Disinformation
  11. European Jewish CongressKantor Center Annual Report on Antisemitism Worldwide - The Year the Mask Came Off
  12. UNICEFCalls for the Protection of Children in the Gaza Strip

Latest News

  1. Whistleblowers could be enforcers of rule of law in Europe
  2. EU shelves Macron idea for 'European Darpa'
  3. Don't play EU 'games' with military HQs, Italian admiral says
  4. EU had a plan for Jordan - now it's time to make it work
  5. Time for EU to take charge of global health research agenda
  6. EU in race to set global Artificial Intelligence ethics standards
  7. Juncker delays air quality action due to busy agenda
  8. Spain makes bid for EU naval HQ

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Mission of China to the EUForeign Minister Wang Yi Highlights Importance of China-EU Relations
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersImmigration and Integration in the Nordic Region - Getting the Facts Straight
  3. Macedonian Human Rights MovementMacedonians in Bulgaria Demand to End the Anti-Macedonian Name Negotiations
  4. Counter BalanceThe EIB Needs to Lead by Example on Tax Justice
  5. ILGA EuropeTrans People in Sweden to be Paid Compensation for Forced Sterilisation
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsThe Danger of Standing Up for Justice and Rights in Central Asia
  7. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Must Work Together to Promote Global Steel Sector
  8. Swedish EnterprisesEU Tax Proposal on Digital Services Causes Concern for Small Exporting Economies
  9. European Jewish CongressCondemns the Horrific Murder of Holocaust Survivor Mireille Knoll in Paris
  10. Mission of China to the EUAn Open China Will Foster a World-Class Business Environment
  11. ECR GroupAn Opportunity to Help Shape a Better Future for Europe
  12. Counter BalanceControversial Turkish Azerbaijani Gas Pipeline Gets Major EU Loan