Great Expectations in the Arab World concerning the European Union

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Great Expectations in the Arab World concerning the European Union: have the high hopes of an alternative partnership to that with the United States already been dashed ?

This memorandum was commissioned by the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament, General Directorate for External Affairs of the Union, Direction B. – Thematic Department on external Union policy, Official in charge: Stefan Krauss, GD External Policies Thematic Department. Any opinion expressed is the author’s alone and does not necessarily reflect the European Parliament’s position – DGExPo/B/PolDep/2006/25 4 octobre 2006 FR

Circulated in French, it has been especially translated into English (by Patrick Hutchinson) to be presented and discussed at the
International Conference
« Europe and Asia between Islam and the United States »
Centre for Dialogue
La Trobe, University, 3-5 Dec 2007

In view of the overall perception of the United States of America, what are the expectations of the different players, whether government or opposition, «civil society» or «religious actors», with regard to the European Union ?

The overall visibility or correct functioning of the European Union’s actions with regard to the Arab World vary very much according to whether they are assessed from an economic or a political point of view. The current survey mainly focuses on the political expectations of the Arab World. Its aim is consequently to attempt to identify the perception by its prospective partners of the liabilities entailed by the credibility and efficiency ratings of the European Union compared to the United States of America. The impact of such expectations varies in proportion to the geographical proximity of the partners concerned and – according the degree to which a colonial past and, not infrequently, its migratory undertow, have intertwined their societies – i.e. according to their degree of «historical intimacy.» It may also, as in the case of the Palestinian territories, be largely dependent on the perceived degree of urgency of seeking out some alternative form of western support to that provided by the United States.

The analysis of the political arena of Euro-Arab relations requires prudent recourse to several categories and notions which have become common parlance, more particularly «civil society» and «religious actor», because the latter, in the context of an authoritarian environment, may in fact be bereft of much of their normal meaning. Without minimising the quality of many EU initiatives, this study’s main concern is to highlight what the author’s close scrutiny of Arab public opinions has shown to be the challenges facing any attempt to strengthen relations with this region and above all to render them more permanent and sustainable.

Can the confidence of a population be won over when one is considered to be the ally and accomplice of its two main «adversaries» ? Herein lies the essential challenge which the Union must take up, first and foremost regionally, as a consequence of its original proximity to and ongoing affinity with the State of Israël, including when the latter’s policies visibly have overstepped the yellow line of international legality. How can the EU win the confidence of the Palestinian population without more resolutely denouncing the serious breaches of fundamental rights committed towards its members by Israel’s occupying forces ? This challenge must also be taken up by Union members on the national parliamentary level. It mainly results from an open complacency on the part of the EU concerning the «stumbling blocks» represented by all such Arab regimes as violate with impunity the very principles of good governance which it has claimed to promote. How can the EU win the confidence of the Libyan, Algerian or Tunisian (etc.) populations, when repeatedly stooping to roll out the red carpet before their current leaders, which everything conspires to condemn for the obduracy with which they have flouted the most elementary human rights and freedoms ? The slow pace with which the Union comes to recognize its alternative partners, wthin the ranks of civil society or among political oppositions – and more specifically its permanent incapacity to establish the slightest contact with the new up-and-coming moderate islamist trends – is inflicting severe collateral damage on its image, shaking to the base the very sustainability of its initiatives. The dead-end into which it contrived to manoeuvre itself, in January 2006, by boycotting a Palestinian government only a few weeks earlier elected with its unswerving support, admirably highlights an extreme manifestation of the latent schizophrenia into which its line of action is in danger of inexorably embroilling it. The present study finally aims to propose a limited number of recommendations revolving around a necessary paving of the way for the ongoing renewal of the ruling elites issued from the independence period and superseding the ultimate sequels of the days of unilateralism, both political and cultural, which is now to be seen as consigned to the legacy of history.

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