EU ‘has lost all credibility’ on democracy in Middle East
The European Union lost all credibility on democracy promotion in the Middle East and North Africa in isolating Hamas following its democratic victory in Palestinian elections in 2006, according to a Maltese expert on the Middle East and EU-Mediterranean relations.
Michelle Pace who is based at the University of Birmingham and spearheads the Economic and Social Research Council project on EU democracy promotion efforts in the Middle East said the EU should not make the same mistake again regardless of the outcome of ongoing protests in Egypt and elsewhere against undemocratic regimes.
“The international community has to choose between key Arab partners – for the pretence of a Middle East peace process which they are trying to keep afloat – and the demands of the people in the region for democratic reform.”
Despite professing a commitment to democratisation in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena region) in its 2003 European Security Strategy and 2004 European Neighbourhood Policy, the EU continued to support autocratic regimes, such as that of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, in the region. This was mainly because of its willingness to deal with Israel, act as trading and economic partners and because of the EU’s fear of alternatives, such as the potential for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood to gain power in Egypt, Dr Pace said.
But she thinks the EU should not fear the outcome of free and democratic elections in the Mena region and should learn lessons from what happened after the Palestinian elections in 2006.
“If Islamist groups come to power through free, fair and demo-cratic elections, then the EU should respect the decision of the people of the region and perhaps take a step back to understand these movements as they are very little known in the international community,” Dr Pace said.
In responding to the ongoing developments in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere in the region, the EU should be honest about its past support of undemocratic regimes and, unless it is serious about supporting real political change in the region, it should not claim to be on the side of the people, Dr Pace feels.
“If the EU countries change their present mindsets and ‘strategic interests’ – which to my mind are short-sighted – and the people of the region have democratic elections and are allowed to slowly build on the results of these elections without foreign intervention, then it would serve the long term interests of the EU to have real stability and peace in the region,” she said.
“But, as we know, any change is bound to cause some upheaval in the short to medium term as we witnessed in central and eastern European countries, so the international community needs patience,” Dr Pace said.
If the Egyptian people manage to topple the Mubarak regime in the region’s largest country, Dr Pace believes it can encourage similar uprisings elsewhere – with potential in Algeria, Yemen and the Palestinian territories, particularly against Fatah.
Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s comments condemning the uprising in Tunisia demonstrated he was concerned about something similar happening in his country too, Dr Pace said.
Malta has the potential to play a key role in formulating the EU’s response to the upheaval that could follow, Dr Pace says. “Before joining the EU, Malta was perceived in very good light in the Mena region. I think this has changed because of the decreasing credibility of the EU there. Malta should be the driving force for a fresh EU start in terms of its policies towards the region,” she said.
Dr Pace can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.