Eric Pichon By / January 20, 2014

EU, the Mediterranean and the Middle East – In Focus

Three years after the ousting of the former Tunisian president Ben Ali and the beginning of the uprisings in Egypt,…

picture by Kris Krüg (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
picture by Kris Krüg (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Three years after the ousting of the former Tunisian president Ben Ali and the beginning of the uprisings in Egypt, it is perhaps a good time to take stock of what has been accomplished in the “Arab Spring countries” and the wider Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Over the last three years, long-standing authoritarian regimes have been toppled. Subsequent elections took place in a manner most observers considered transparent. The results of the ballots brought into office parties and personalities with whom EU diplomats had no strong ties, but the EU adjusted quickly to these new representatives and was swift to redefine its neighbourhood policy. Our keysource on the EU response to the Arab Spring provides you with the most relevant information on the topic, check also our statistical spotlight on the EU financial assistance to its southern Mediterranean neighbours.

Revolutions have always had their hiccups, and European history shows that there is no smooth pathway from despotism to full democracy. In particular, the situation in Egypt, where a referendum on the new draft constitution took place last week, is confusing: was Morsi’s removal from office the result of street demonstrations or was it just another military coup? And what will the consequences for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood be? Our briefing will help you make up your mind. We published another briefing on Egypt’s new constitution and the situation of minorities.

In the wake of the Arab Spring, security concerns in the Maghreb region and continuing economic stagnation, compounded by the complicated political transition in these countries, have revived hopes for a more substantial and effective political and economic integration in the region, suggesting a resumption of the long dormant Arab Maghreb Union. Our keysource on the subject analyses challenges and prospects for improved regional integration.

Insecurity can also trigger regional cooperation: Sinai’s instability could lead to unprecedented military collaboration between Egypt and Israel, while the EU’s South Sinai Regional Development Programme (SSRDP) is working to improve the living conditions of the Bedouin population.

On the security agenda, the EU, represented by Baroness Ashton, the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, played a central role in the latest negotiations with Iran. Our keysource listing the first reactions to the Iran nuclear deal makes it clear that, for most commentators, it is an important step towards appeasement in the region after ten years of talks; nevertheless, a nuclear-weapon-free Middle East is not going to happen overnight, as our briefing explains. Ridding Syria of chemical weapons is another challenge: we have outlined the complications that lie ahead. Even though a second peace conference is planned in Geneva this week, one must fear that the number of Syrian refugees (currently more than two million) will not decrease anytime soon: the EU has offered support to the main hosting countries, but very few Syrian refugees have been able to settle in the EU so far, and the asylum policy of its Member States has been questioned.

The EU institutions, especially the European Parliament, have frequently expressed concern about human rights issues to the Middle Eastern and North African countries – in particular about women’s condition, even though the situation is not the same in the whole region: there are significant differences between Israel and, say, Algeria – and even between the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia (see briefing in French: La condition féminine en Arabie Saoudite). The European Parliament also remains concerned about the condition of migrant workers in Qatar.

Dedicating this week to the Middle-East and North Africa region is also a good opportunity for us to thank our former trainee, Martin, who helped us greatly with his in-depth knowledge of the region, and who left his fingerprints on some of the featured posts. All the best in your new job!


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