|Domestic Developments in North Africa and the Middle East|
Dr Claire Spencer
Head, Middle East Programme,Royal Institute of International Affairs, Chatham House, London
While the Arab Spring has become familiar as a shorthand title, as we enter summer, it is not an entirely accurate name for the events of 2011 – it symbolises optimism but not everything has gone well. Initial aims for civic rights, human dignity and economic stability were unimpeachable, but realising them has not been straightforward. For new governments in transition resources have not been evenly available. The main differentiator between the North African states has been wealth from oil. A key social factor has been young people seeking jobs, usually well-qualified and often educated in Europe, confronting well embedded centralised elites. The transition towards new forms of democracy has involved devising new democratic constitutions, but from a background of little multiparty political party experience. The main Islamist party in Tunisia appears to represent about 30% of the population, for instance, which is new. A contribution from Europe could well be to encourage coherent political organisation. Judicial reform has been on the agenda, which is important because justice was usually in the hands of the older elites, and interim justice risks being vindictive if not balanced by the future interests of society.
In a brief round-up of the situation in states of the area: Yemen was in danger of fragmenting and becoming a failed state; Tunisia was already involved in constitutional debate and the formation of a constituent assembly; in Morocco constitutional changes were being initiated by the King, yet the moves towards constitutional monarchy were being inhibited by the lack of experienced political parties to consolidate parliamentary democracy; in Algeria there were continual protests but they had not coalesced into organised revolution; the Gulf states with smaller populations were also nervous about political change.
Questions and comments
What political parties were capable of sustaining democratic initiatives? The well-organised Muslim Brotherhood had split into three. Nascent political parties usually had very little funding available. Coalitions of small parties with similar platforms were likely to emerge. Economic planning and growth is the main problem where there is little political experience of debating these issues.
What relevance did the situation in Sudan have to North African change ? The question implied that there might be a model in the relatively peaceful establishment of independence for South Sudan. North Sudan had fairly effectively administered the secession of South Sudan. The transfer of population across the new borders remained a problem, as did the development of new independent economies.
The problem of North African migration or people trafficking into Europe. There was a humanitarian crisis developing, mainly because of the lack of a European policy on distributing the burden of migration. An example was when a refugee ship was refused landing in Malta because it was not the nearest point of entry into Europe.
What was the role of Al-Quaeda in the North African changes ? While it might be an aim of Al-Quaeda groups to take advantage of unrest in the Arab states, the majority opinion of the people preferred peaceful transition, and was being attracted by peaceful Islamic political movements. Small groups of Al-Quaeda seemed to be tolerated by some governments (as in Algeria), probably in order to sustain ‘anti-terrorist’ action.
|The Revolution in Egypt|
member of the Egyptian Revolutionary Leadership
|His earlier experience as a youth activist had proved very useful in organising the Tahrir Square demonstrations. Picturing an Egypt in which people “have been in a deep, deep coma for the last 60 or so years” he would prefer to see the revolutionary movement called the Arab Awakening.|
Effective governmental power in Egypt was currently in the hands of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – the Minister of Defence with 19 divisional commanders. He described its membership as an incompetent bunch acting out of self-preservation, retaining as much as possible of the previous economic and political structure. The referendum held in March 2011 to approve 64 amendments to the Constitution has in effect been a betrayal of revolutionary ideas. It had had the effect of breaking the lines of unity among the several revolutionary organisations.
In current Egyptian society there was a clear generation gap between the Nasser generation and the “Facebook” younger generation. There were now about 70 new young political parties, demonstrating vibrancy but little experience in politics, and among the parties there was certainly a dearth of resources. Ahmed Naguib explained that while he wanted to stand for Parliament, he would be standing against a multi-millionaire. Publicity, communication of ideas and political persuasion would inevitably be unbalanced.
The Muslim Brotherhood was strong, but appeared not to want a dominant majority in Parliament – to have such would risk focussing blame for the difficulties faced by a subsequent government. He endorsed the negotiations of Hillary Clinton with the Muslim Brotherhood, in order to establish confidence among foreign investors. He hoped that the USA, UK and France would find ways to exercise leverage over the Military Council.
In the political parties’ programmes what were the economic prospects ?
Many small parties had similar policies, and future mergers should be expected. Nevertheless there was a lack of coherent vision for the future.
What part would the Egyptian judiciary play ?
There was an apparent unwillingness to bring cronies of the former regime to justice. Ahmed Naguib believed that the Mubarak trial should be postponed until a new parliament was in place and the judiciary had been reappointed. The current judiciary was closely associated with the previous regime. He went on to suggest that this also applied to the media in Egypt. It was equally important to establish the independence of media which had been the mouthpiece of the former regime. A lot could be learned from the principles and experience of the BBC.
The role of European investment. A priority was training and education in democratic political structures. There was a strong case for writing off international debits, on the rationale that they were improperly incurred by the previous regime.
The international role of Egypt vis-à-vis Israel, and future relations with the USA and EU. It was said that Mubarak had been hand-in-glove with Mossad. Collaboration with the USA and NATO was essential. Egypt needed to regain a role of leadership in the Middle East. The controversial closure of the Gaza crossing should be solved in the context of humanitarian issues.
|Introducing the afternoon sessions Nick Hopkinson made comparisons between the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Arab Awakening. There were some factors in common – economic pressures, the emergence of popular communication technologies, ethnic and religious tensions. As part of the Soviet Union bloc Central and Eastern Europe had in common a hegemonic power, but there was nothing equivalent in the Arab world. Without such an overall power structure there was nothing equivalent to the collapse of the Soviet Union. In both cases of revolutionary transition there was a power vacuum after the changes. The central and eastern European states had gravitated towards the European Union for a replacement structure; the Arab countries were still looking for some supportive structure.|
|The EU’s evolving policy towards Africa|
recently member, European External Action Service, Brussels
Roger Moore explained that he would draw on his recent experience in the area of Sub-Saharan Africa to explain strands of policy in the European External Action Service that were relevant to the Mediterranean neighbourhood.
The EEAS had been created to bring together a number of different fields: politics, economics, development support, and European defence and security issues other than through NATO. It was the arm of EU foreign policy, but needed consensus among all the 27 EU states. The EEAS therefore spent a lot of its time in consensus-building. About four policies a month became finalised and recent examples were the Horn of Africa and responses to East African piracy.
The period of transition in the Arab countries was a negative reaction to endemic corruption and nepotism. Therefore the most urgent need was to develop forward-looking policies. EU policy was firm that Arab countries must determine their own future. In the context of security there might, for instance, be a call for the EEAS to negotiate a subsequent peace-keeping role during an interim transition period.
It was important to build institutions which had the confidence of the people. Hence assistance was being given to Jordan and Morocco in constitutional transition. Changes in Egypt came in the context of a much longer and more varied history – “in Egypt the ruler has not voluntarily stepped down at any time in the last 70,000 years”. In the new situation a developing economy, especially for young people, required political stability to attract investment.
Key to the present situation was what Roger Moore called “the three Ms”:
|Money – €7 billion had been earmarked in grants and another €3.5 billion of loans for infrastructure had been arranged through the European Investment Bank, the EBRD & Others.|
|Mobility – particularly focusing on education for a young workforce. There had been a 40% increase in available ERASMUS funds and Marie Curie education programmes.|
|Markets – the development of two-way trade. |
This initiative was being undertaken against the difficult background of economic strains in Europe. The positive argument was that good relations with European neighbours benefits Europe, both in its economy and its security.
Comments and questions
Rapid reaction – there was clearly a problem in crisis mobility. Most of the European action in North Africa had been taken by individual countries.
The Library in Wiston House
What was the EEAS process for achieving consensus ?
EU decision-making could be either by full consensus (foreign policy) or by ‘qualified majority voting’. The key discussions were within the European Council, but that had to be underpinned by informal meetings preparing the ground for consensus. A recent example had been the issue of a sudden wave of immigration into southern Europe. Most EU countries believe in establishing a European policy, but this sometimes runs up against domestic political resistance, as, for instance, when President Sarkozy bid to suspend the Schengen treaty arrangements.
Was there a role for the EU in arbitrating disagreements during revolutionary transition ? It was possible, sometimes valuable, to give conditional support. Economic grants were usually dependent on stringent control. The focus of support was on democratisation and economic growth. Some specific training on security issues had been arranged. There was known concern among the still existing totalitarian regimes that EEAS grants to NGOs were directed towards undermining those governments.
|Security and Disarmament in North Africa and the Middle East |
and Implications for the EU
Dr Sameh Aboul-Enein
Academic specialising in Security Issues, London
Dr Sameh Aboul-Enein is an Egyptian scholar. He holds an MSc and a PhD in International Relations and the Middle East and is a visiting lecturer on disarmament at the London Academy of Diplomacy. He is an alumnus of the American University and the University of London. He has published a number of articles on disarmament issues (linked below).
Comments from participants
Arab states appeared to trust neither the West nor themselves.
Israel has not clearly welcomed the Arab Spring, which it may perceive as undermining stability vis-à-vis Israel.
It would be politically impossible for Israel to disarm while Iran and some Arab groups aim for its annihilation.
Security and humanitarian issues were intertwined, as in the case of 400 thousand migrants from Libya who had fled to Tunisia.
|Turkey after the Election: |
a Model for Countries in North Africa and the Middle East ?
His Excellency Ahmet Ünal Çeviköz
Ambassador, Turkish Embassy, London
The elections in Turkey on 12 June had a turnout of some 83%, giving clear democratic legitimacy. Turkey’s democratic constitution had evolved at several points since 1921, and this election was seen as a follow-up to the 2010 referendum for a new constitution which might bring the country more in line with EU standards. The country had been a multi-party democracy since 1946. Parliament is empowered to pass laws, but they can be reviewed by the Constitutional Court. The current constitutional question was whether there should be a move from a Parliamentary to a Presidential system. Most Middle East countries have a presidential system – would they want to change?
Turkey had moved towards a market economy in the 1980s. It was now a member of the G20. In the world league-table it had the 16th largest economy, and the 6th in the European context. It had not been much affected by the international economic crisis. In the year 2010 GDP had increased by about 9%, and further growth is forecast at 6%.
The fundamental principle of Turkey’s foreign policy was to achieve “zero problem” with its neighbours. Relations with Syria were a good example. In the sensitive area of relations with Armenia, protocols had been signed for the first time since 1921 Kars Treaty. In Palestine Turkey had been the first country to engage in dialogue with Hamas, and at the time was criticised by the USA, but today “everyone is talking to them”. It was important to identify what the critical drivers were, and engage in dialogue with them. Turkey had acted as a facilitator between Afghanistan and Pakistan and took on a similar role between Serbia and Bosnia. There was significant value in being recognised as an honest broker with no hidden agenda, an attitude that placed it in a better position than the western nations.
Turkey was a candidate for membership of the EU but of course her involvement with the EU under the Ankara Agreement and her active membership of NATO went back many decades. The prolonged negotiations for membership of the EU continued. The neighbouring Turkic nations were supportive, seeing Turkey as a potential representative of their voice.
The seminar topic suggested a positive role for Turkey in the Arab Revival. But one country could not be a model for others – each needed a unique solution. What were the characteristics of the Arab Revival? It was important that forward thinking should not be focused on wariness of Islamic influence. A common factor was the replacement of autocracy, whether presidential or royalty. It was significant that the North African countries were not integrated into the world economic system – most were not yet WTO members. Turkey was not aiming to be a model, but willing to endorse outreach to all Mediterranean countries.
Comments and questions
What problems did the new Constitution aim to solve? – for instance the 1921 constitution had been to achieve the transition from empire to nation state.
The 1921 Constitution gave all power to the Grand National Assembly, two years before the actual proclamation of the Republic following 1924 constitution too focused on unification of powers. Legislative and executive powers rested with the parliament. The 1961 and 1982 constitutions created a system of separation of powers.
There was still a risk of concentrating power in the hands of a governing party or elite.
|It was accepted that minority rights should be respected by the majority. A basic characteristic of Turkey has been secular government – it is a unique example to prove that Islam and democracy are not incompatible. There had been a period of religious revival throughout Europe, not just in Islamic areas, especially in former Soviet states.|
|Nevertheless it was obvious that there were problems in Iraq where political parties had taken to identifying themselves as Sunni or Shia. Turkey has advocated non-violent change in Syria. The intervention of the army there could be contrasted with the decision taken by the army in Egypt.|
Other questions raised were:
How is it that the Israel-Palestine issue has not been mentioned in the platforms of the North African revolutions?
What leads the military to decide to withdraw from intervention in politics?
How would Turkey adjust to the standards of the EU; and how did it hope to deal with French opposition linked to Armenian history.
Is Turkey seeking any form of leadership in the Mediterranean region?
Adjusting to the EU acquis was having an important influence in changing the attitude of the military in Turkey. It should be emphasised that accession negotiations were for full EU membership not association. There were still 17 or 18 chapters of the acquis which had not been opened for negotiation because of the opposition of some EU states, for instance by France under President Sarkozy and by the Greek Cypriots who are accepted as a member of the EU in spite of the fact that Cyprus issue remains unresolved.