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  • 7/30/2019 Europe and the Arab World


    The Royal Society of EdinburghJoint event with the European Movement in Scotland

    and supported by the European Commission Office in Scotlandand the Centre for Advanced Study of the Arab World

    Europe and the Arab World Conference

    Tuesday 27 November 2012

    Report by Matthew Shelley

    The Arab World is undergoing major political and social upheaval at the same time,Europe faces a far-reaching economic crisis. The conference examined the relationshipsbetween the regions and how Europe can promote stability, peace and prosperity inArab countries. The speakers were His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan Bin Talal of

    Jordan, Professor Yasir Suleiman of Cambridge Universitys Faculty of Asian and MiddleEastern Studies, Christian Berger of the European External Action Service, AndrewClaret of the Anna Lindh Foundation, Dr Malik Dahlan from the Institution Quraysh forLaw and Society and Tarek El Sherbini of the European Bank for Reconstruction andDevelopment. The welcome was provided by Sir David Edward, outgoing RSEInternational Committee Convener.


    Professor Suleiman said the relationship between Europe and the Arab World is anancient one, with many bloody encounters at one end of the spectrum and peaceful,productive ones at the other. Today, the memories of warfare and colonialism outweighthose of rich cultural exchange. The conference, he said, was designed to help tiltperceptions towards the positive end of the spectrum.

    Arab and European attitudes are not helped by over-simplistic attitudes. Many Arabsconflate Europe and other powers, such as the USA, and simply see them as the West.Likewise, Europeans tend to see Arabs and Muslims as one and the same, when thereare many Arab Christians.

    According to Professor Suleiman, there has been a range of initiatives from the EU inthe past three decades responding to changes in the southern and easternMediterranean. These have had three goals:

    1) Prosperity economic co-operation, access to oil and gas, trade plus economicand technical aid. Tied in with these are European worries about mass migrationand combating Islamic terrorism.

    2) Stability democratic governance, respect for human rights, the rule of law,freedom of expression, association and assembly, along with free media,independent judiciaries, political pluralism and a strong civil society.

    3) Peace solving conflicts, chiefly those between the Arabs and Israel.

    Good intentions have been undermined by security fears, which have led Europe totolerate tyrannical regimes. There was often a bogus idea that Arabs had little interest indemocratic freedoms a notion destroyed by the Arab Spring. European economicprotectionism has also undermined the pursuit of prosperity.

  • 7/30/2019 Europe and the Arab World


    The Arab Spring has placed a moral responsibility on Europe to live up to its convictionsand support Arab people in their drive for freedom and democracy. It is a goldenopportunity to dispel the notion that Europe speaks one way and acts another.

    Nonetheless, democratisation ends the certainties offered by tyrannical regimes. Europemust learn a new kind of politics dealing with forces such as the Muslim Brotherhood which it has previously demonised. The progress of the Arab Spring is uneven andEurope also needs to consider its relationships with surviving old regimes.

    Professor Suleiman said: The challenge for Europe is how to fill the trinity of prosperity,stability and peace with new meanings, both conceptual and practical, to deal with anewly-emerging order in the Arab World.

    He said the conference goals were to:1) Identify and examine common challenges faced by Europe and the Arab World.2) Facilitate relationship building between experts from academia, civil society and

    state institutions.3) Provide the basis for a focused action plan and concrete follow-up initiatives.

    The aims would be addressed under three headings:1) Civil society2) Structures of government3) Sustainable and equitable economic development

    Session 1

    Christian Berger

    European External Action Service Director for North Africa, Middle East, ArabianPeninsula, Iran and Iraq

    Europe can be a powerful actor in the world, but it is currently dissipating its energies bybeing introspective, as it struggles with internal issues and fails to unite on externalones. He predicted that the EU would appear weak as it split in the forthcoming UN voteon giving observer status to Palestine [vote took place on 29 November see BBC Q&A]. Mr Berger compared this tothe EUs highly effective role when member states united over the issue of settlements inthe Occupied Territories.

    North Africa and the Middle East have presented security challenges and have been

    places of rapid geopolitical change since long before the Arab Spring. There has beenthe spread of terrorist groups, the emergence of Turkey, the nuclear ambitions of Iran,and the Iraq War.

    The Arab uprisings have accelerated change and brought new challenges includingthe possibility that the conflict in Syria could destabilise the whole region. The EU hasused sanctions and diplomacy to try to achieve peace in Syria and is providing aid forrefugees. Mr Berger expressed hope that the work done to create a more united Syrianopposition may yield results.

    The recent violence in Gaza and Israel has demonstrated the importance of finding asolution to the Arab/Israeli conflict the EU backs a two-state solution. The instability in

    the Sahel region is another area of concern, with the rapid spread of weapons and

  • 7/30/2019 Europe and the Arab World


    armed groups. In places such as northern Mali, the EU is working with governments tostem the consequent illegal traffic of weapons, drugs and people.

    The Arab Spring has brought hope that people can achieve freedom. It has also brought

    the chance for dignity, which Mr Berger described as having three facets:1) Political the redefinition of the relationship between state and individual.

    Something similar happened in Europe with the revolutions of 1848.2) Social and economic better lives, opportunities and education.3) National Arabs seek their own national dignities and national dignity for


    Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have had free elections and significant reform is underway incountries such as Jordan. The EU has imposed sanctions on dictators during periods ofstruggle and given support to build new state and civil society structures in times oftransition. The policy is more for more, meaning if a country can absorb more help,then the EU should provide it. Despite its own internal issues, Europe is committed to

    improved arrangements on trade and the movement of people.

    Many issues are regional and are being addressed at that level, with the EU working inconjunction with organisations such as the League of Arab States which played aleading role in Libya and is loosely involved in Syria. European foreign ministers havejust agreed a work programme with the Arab League which covers many areas, fromenergy and culture to law and electoral processes.

    Mr Berger said that progress in the Arab World is likely to have setbacks, just as it had inEurope. Despite the revolutions of 1848, much of Europe was only democratised in1948, and other parts not until 1989, with the collapse of communism. In Europe, the EUreacted positively to change by supporting progressive and humanitarian forces and

    seeking to integrate newly democratic states.

    With the Lisbon Treaty in place and the establishment of the European External ActionService, the EU is able to play a greater role in North Africa and the Middle East. This isvaluable in terms of building and strengthening the institutions and infrastructure neededby stable, pluralistic and democratic societies.

    The EU needs to look at what it can offer democratised Arab states. Options mightinclude a broader European economic space or new customs arrangements. Whateverthe case, the EU is committed to being a long-term partner for Arab peoples freedom,dignity and economic prosperity.

    Mr Berger then took questions from the audience. Professor David Breeze asked what could be done to combat European ideas ofArabs being other or even bogeymen. Mr Berger said that Europe needs to recognisethat there are fewer differences between peoples aspirations than it imagines. Asked about Europe and the Palestinians, Mr Berger said Europe has givenassistance to the Palestinian Authority, which has allowed progress towards recognitionof statehood. The commitment is to recognise statehood when appropriate thedifficulty being disagreements over timing. On supporting access to education and financing social development, Mr Berger saidthat these are areas where the EU is active, but which will suffer due to budget cuts. Mr Berger was asked if oil explained why Europe swiftly intervened in Libya but not inSyria. He responded that Russian and Chinese concerns about regime change had tobe taken into account. Also, the Libyan opposition had been coherent from an earlystage whereas it has, until recently, been fragmented in Syria.

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    Session 2

    His Royal Highness Prince El Hassan Bin TalalThe post-World War I attempts to create a settlement in what is often called the Middle

    East have failed. New thinking is needed which recognises the pluralism of Western Asiaand North Africa as a diverse region incorporating Arab Muslim and non-Arab Muslimnations, such as Israel.

    Commenting on progress towards greater freedoms in the Arab World, Prince El Hassansaid that in 2009