Year LII, 2010, Single Issue, Page 3
Tunisia, Egypt and Europe
The recent revolts in Tunisia and Egypt, whose outcomes are hard to predict, mark a break with the old political balances that will inevitably impact directly on Europe. As this issue of The Federalist goes to press, the implications of the popular uprising in Egypt are still uncertain, while in Tunisia the transition towards a new democratic system promises to be fraught with difficulty. What is clear, however, is that the Arab world is entering a new phase and turning its back on the past: quite unexpectedly, this area’s decadent and corrupt regimes (supported up until now by the West, partly for economic reasons, but above all because they were deemed important allies against the rising tide of Islamic fundamentalism and valid protectors of the delicate Middle Eastern balances), incapable of responding to the problems of their countries, have begun to collapse. A handful of days is all it took for a seemingly stable system (albeit one with problems) to start crumbling. As is often the case with implosions, revolts and other transformations signalling epochal transitions, no one saw this unrest coming, and no one now seems prepared to indicate concrete ways forward, capable of opening up real prospects for democratic progress and civil advancement in this region.
The recent events in these two Arab states, events that are being echoed in uprisings elsewhere in the region, from the Yemen to Algeria, have prompted many to analyse the situation in these countries; these analyses have highlighted the political corruption and authoritarianism of the region’s governments and their failed economic development plans, which, not getting off the ground, have not succeeded in generating national added value, or jobs, leaving unemployment extremely high, particularly among the young. In short, these are countries whose governments have not kept their promises and which have proved unable to overcome their dependence on income from oil, from tourism, and even from their own nationals abroad (who send money home). Finally, globalisation has left them competing, in traditional sectors, with the strong developing countries, and the weight of this competition has crushed their weak and backward manufacturing sectors. This whole situation, whose political and social consequences are obvious, was rendered explosive by the crisis in the West, which has made it more difficult for these populations to emigrate, and by the global shortages of raw materials in the food sector, which have caused the prices of essential foodstuffs to rocket.
This whole scenario is the product of an accumulation of delays and failures, and it provides an illustration of how a political system can degenerate; more significant than this, however, is the fact that it signals the start of an epochal change in international balances. As highlighted by Fareed Zakaria in a recent interview published in the Corriere della Sera (30 January), the recent events in North Africa are an effect of the new “post-American” era: basically, a phenomenon that, a few short years ago, was still just a hypothesis of political science is now rapidly becoming an overwhelmingly dramatic reality. It is, indeed, clear that the United States can no longer play a determining role in Arab North Africa (however much it goes on trying to exert its influence) and this fact is having profound repercussions on political balances. The changes taking place are thus the result of the transition towards a new global order, which, however, remains to be clearly delineated. Indeed, with nothing on the horizon as an alternative to the pax Americana, there is a very real and serious risk, above all for the populations of this part of the world, that the struggle for democracy and progress will not find effective avenues. This would obviously lead to growing tensions and leave the way clear for the emergence of new oppressive regimes.
That this is, as things stand, a possible scenario is shown by the instability of the whole of the Middle East, which has spread even as far as Pakistan. Thus, the future of North Africa is now at stake, given that no one seems able to support a true process of political and economic growth in this part of the world. While the USA, in the wake of its failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, lacks the instruments to do any better in this region, it seems premature to think of China in the role of political power, shouldering responsibility for managing the balances in such a vast and troubled area (and China may not even be seeking such a role). That leaves Europe, but it is clearly impossible to imagine today’s profoundly divided EU, which tries to speak through a diplomatic service but has no foreign policy worthy of the name, effectively tackling this problem.
Europe, what is more, has a long history of failures as regards its policies in Africa. At the birth of the European Community, the process of European unification was meant to serve as a guide, a model, and a stable point of reference for the whole of Africa, both continental Africa and Arab North Africa. However, because the Europeans have failed to unite politically, they have failed in their mission to provide this innovative institutional model; moreover, their division has meant that far from providing a stable point of reference for the African continent, they have actually used Africa for the pursuit of their own small national ambitions, acting in isolation and even in opposition to one another. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that the bilateral agreements of association, commercial treaties and various other forms of cooperation stipulated from the 1970s on with some African countries have, like the so-called “Barcelona Process” of 1995, which was meant to be the start of a new era of Euro-African relations and to conclude with Sarkozy’s much trumpeted Euro-Mediterranean Union, been a flop. The Lomé agreements emerge as the only (partial) exception to this. Europe, rather than seeking solutions, has merely looked on as Africa’s problems have deepened, and today it is still standing by and watching as a new phase begins in the Arab African countries, a phase whose evolution and outcomes will be crucially important for our continent.
It is surely clear to see that, with the American era drawing to a close and the USA’s scope for intervention and interests changing, voids are forming around our continent — voids that it is up to us, with vision and intelligence, to fill, in order to ensure the presence, around us, of stable democratic countries with which we might cooperate. To do this, however, the Europeans need to abandon their narrow national interests and create a truly European vision, born of dynamic, democratic policies designed to culminate, tangibly, in the actions of a European supranational government. In other words, they need to prove capable of making the leap from European Union to European federal state, beginning with a core group of countries ready to take the initiative in this sense. Because the price to be paid for continuing to see this objective as something that can continually be postponed to some vague future time (even though one may pay lip service to it) is countless future tragedies, both for we Europeans and for our neighbours.