After the Arab Spring

Expectations for Summer, Fall, and Winter

01/07/2011 | 10:00 - 18:00 | DGAP | Invitation only

Category: Arab countries, Democratization/System Change

How will the Arab world develop after its stormy spring? This was one of the questions that Jack A. Goldstone of George Mason University, Paul Freiherr von Maltzahn, executive vice-president German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), and Almut Möller, head of the Alfred von Oppenheim-Center for European Policy Studies at the DGAP discussed.

A central observation of Goldstone’s was the expanding gap in population growth between the Middle East and Europe (or the West in general). While the number of children born in countries such as Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya is rising, birth rates are decreasing in the West. But nevertheless, or perhaps exactly because of this, the people in these countries (especially Egypt and Tunisia) look to the future with a keen sense of confidence.

At the same time, Western governments have lost a lot of political capital by not supporting the revolutions faster, instead sticking to the old, familiar, and trusted regimes. This is, however, only the starting point for the mistrust the people of the region have in Western, and especially European, governments. Instead of engaging them constructively  to gain an understanding of what they truly want, Western governments have left the people of the region with the feeling that they are being given instructions on how their countries should develop. Egyptians in particular seem more interested in cultural and academic exchanges than in money.

In the case of Libya, Goldstone sees the biggest problem in the apparent inability of the West to unite and act decisively. As long as Gaddafi can claim credibly that he will remain in power when the war ends, he will be able to find soldiers to fight for him.

However, Goldstone is on the whole rather optimistic. He sees a “global tide flowing towards democracy” which has finally arrived in North Africa. The people in the region, especially in Tunisia and Egypt, could worry  about the future, but have just as much a sense of hope and excitement. They are aware that the path they are about to take is not going to be easy, but they are prepared to walk the walk. In this regard, the high numbers of young people could be a blessing in disguise if governments are able to integrate them into the job market and thus prevent a new revolt.

According to Freiherr von Maltzahn, Europe’s unwillingness to take on the region’s refugees is a serious problem. As Goldstone had already mentioned, this behavior could complicate the relationship between the states of the region and those in Europe for quite some time. Von Maltzahn furthermore sees the “revolutions” more as “revolts,” since a revolution would require a clean slate, especially in upper bureaucratic institutions. This is clearly not the case. He also does not look favorably on the intervention in Libya, which could create the impression that revolutions only succeeded because of Western intervention. This image is not helped by the fact that those states intervening (England and France) have a long colonial history in Africa.

For Almut Möller, the fast pace of the Arab Spring was a critical problem for any European foreign policy reaction, as EU institutions did not have enough response time. Apart from this, the EU will have to adapt to totally new conditions. At the very least, the states in the region will no longer be as homogeneous as they used to be, and a “one size fits all” approach will  no longer work. Critically, this  also means that we have no idea where Egypt and Tunisia’s new foreign policy will go. The Arab Spring has thus changed the region from the ground up.

In the end, all the panelists agreed on one thing: To simply discard the Muslim Brotherhood as Islamists and not talk to them would be a fatal mistake. In the first place, as Goldstone pointed out, they are not nearly as radical as they are often portrayed, and furthermore, their exclusion from dialogue now could sour future negotiations should they  win  elections. Simply ignoring election results, as with Hamas in Palestine, will not be possible in the case of countries such as Egypt or Tunisia.

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