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
Questions and comments
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
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.
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
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
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
|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.
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:
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.
particularly focusing on education for a young workforce. There had been a 40%
increase in available ERASMUS funds and Marie Curie education programmes.
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.
continued in right-hand column
The Library in Wiston House
Comments and questions (continued
from column 1)
What was the EEAS process for achieving
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.
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.
Dr Aboul-Eneins writing on the subject of this session can be found in:
2010-2015: The Way Forward
Proliferation Analysis, March 31, 2011
2010: The Beginning of a New Constructive Cycle
in Arms Control Today - November 2010
a verified nuclear weapon free zone in the Middle East
Sameh Aboul-Enein and Hassan ElBahtimy
in VERTIC BRIEF 11 April 2010
Verification Research, Training and Information Centre
Roadmap to Total Nuclear Disarmament
From Abolishing Nuclear Weapons: a debate
13 February 2009
Article location: pp.271-285 (in the original publication, but pp.273-287 in PDF
To link to each of the articles above, click a
button to the left.
after the Election:
a Model for Countries in North Africa and the Middle East ?
His Excellency Ahmet
Ambassador, Turkish Embassy, London
The elections in Turkey on 12 June had a turnout of some
83%, giving clear democratic legitimacy. Turkeys 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 Turkeys 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
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.
top of page