27/05/2011

It remains to convince

These past few months, the major powers seemed abashed in front of the revolutions taking place in the Arab world. The extreme caution taken in withdrawing their support from dictators as Mubarak and Ben Ali brought them a severe loss of credibility in an area where it was already not very high.  The four and a half months that passed since the fall of the Tunisian leader finally allowed the powerful of this world to get their senses back. Announcements of policy changes and support to democratization have followed each other these past two weeks … Without convincing.

Obama was the first Thursday, May 19, to promise support for political reforms towards democracy, but also aid to an economic development needed to sustain these reforms. The message of the United States is clear: “If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States « .

On the European side, Lady Ashton had already issued the draft of a reform of European policy in the Mediterranean on March 8. This week, the External Action Service issued a communication on « a new response to a changing neighborhood« .  Again the message is clear: « The reinforcement of EU support to its neighbors is conditional. It will depend on progress regarding the establishment and consolidation of democracy and the respect for the rule of law.  »

The G8 meeting in Deauville has finally provide Arab countries with democratic reform undertaken by some $ 40 billion of aid, $ 20 billion in bilateral aid and $ 10 billion that will be injected through multilateral banks.

Those are as many good intentions declarations but that do nothing to revolutionize approaches at work to date. Behind the support of the EU – as it is the instance we are interested first and foremost – to democratic reforms, we continue to read the need for security with migration control and counterterrorism. Where indeed are the guarantees of a conditionality based on democratization and respect for human rights, rather than on strengthening the security apparatus of these states?

The EU must also pass another test of credibility: Will she be able to apply that principle equally to all its neighbors? It is indeed easy to talk a posteriori about the « dictators » Ben Ali and Mubarak when they were the « privileged partners » of the EU a few months ago. The EU sanctioned Gaddafi easily, but is it ready to impose the same sanctions for Moroccan abuses in Western Sahara or for Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Gaza for instance?

We know it, if the EU is very good at issuing broad statements of principles, it is much weaker to implement them. The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions are now experiencing difficult transitional phases. The democratic impulse is strong, but the obstacles are manifold. Therefore let us hope that the EU will act with caution here by first inquiring, offering without imposing and remaining consistent with its principles.

Nathalie Janne d’Othée