arab-springHas the Arab Spring failed? Despite early promises of a more democratic North Africa and Middle East, many of the Arab revolutions have taken the same bloody path as the eponymous “European Spring” of 1848. Libya is teetering on the edge of a protracted civil war, Egypt is back under military rule, Syria’s brutal conflict has now spilled over into Iraq and is destabilising the entire region.

The contrast between the experience of the Arab Spring countries and the successful transition from dictatorship made by the majority of the post-Soviet states in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall is stark. Whereas the European Union was there to offer support (and the incentive of eventual EU membership) to the post-Soviet countries, have Europeans done enough to prevent the failure of the Arab Spring?

We had a comment from Vicente who says he fears the promise of democracy heralded by the Arab Spring has been hijacked by extremist groups pushing their own agenda.

We spoke to Bernardino León, EU Special Representative for the Southern Mediterranean Region, and asked him how he would respond to Vicente’s concerns (Note: this interview was recorded earlier in the summer, before Mosul fell to ISIS fighters):

Maybe the European Union should just stay out of the region? We had a comment from Bruno arguing that the EU should first solve its own problems before it starts trying to help people in North Africa and the Middle East. He also says he’s concerned that immigration from these regions will damage employment rates in the EU, so he wants Europe to pull up the drawbridge and close itself off from its neighbours.

How would Bernardino León respond?

Finally, we had a comment from Ozcan asking if the EU’s geopolitical interests in the region are always in line with “Western principles” of democracy and human rights. Historically, this has not always been the case, and many of the dictatorships in North Africa and the Middle East were supported by European states. How would León react?

Should the EU have offered more support to countries in North Africa and the Middle East after the Arab Spring? Has the Arab Spring failed? And why was the democratic transition of post-Soviet Eastern European states so much more successful? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy makers and experts for their reactions.

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – AK Rockefeller

31 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Giannis Lainas

    There was no arab spring,more like a extremist muslim spring….nothing good has come from this supposed arab spring….

  2. avatar
    James McManama

    YES!! It was in the EU’s interests to have prosperous, democratic neighbours but we were too focused on internal problems to pay it enough attention.

  3. avatar
    Gatis Gailitis

    I agree with James McManama. We had to guide these countries through crisis and tighten our relationship both in favor of them and us. Africa isn’t a useless desolate wasteland. It’s an opportunity. Educated, secular Africa with bright young minds could benefit both themselves, Europe and rest of the world.

    • avatar

      This is a very typical reaction. It ticks all the 19th century imperialist boxes like ‘we must guide them, without our help they cannot do anything’.

  4. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    I do not think Europe could have or knew how and what to do. How could it? How does one offer support to something so amorphous? What do foreign “experts” know about all the local intricacies that led to the “arab spring”?
    If humanitarian foreign aid, in peacetime and otherwise, has had such a miserable record of failures, why would this be any different?
    Long term relationships that lead to improved humand conditions, over decades, over generations, that I can believe in. But not this habitual “Jump now! How high?” mentality. As if the world problems could be fixed with repetitive “band-aids”.

    • avatar

      We could always tell them to install a supranational Politburo, hollow out the national parliaments powers and tell them they ought to publish a propaganda sheet to their peoples about how democratic it all is.

  5. avatar
    Carlos Wojciech Manrique Pérez

    Europe has done enough for them,we gave them education,we commited our errors and solutioned them, they can not handle themselves.Just not tolerate this kind of extremism.

  6. avatar
    Lefteris Eleftheriou

    EU has its own territories illegally occupied or claimed by Turkey (Cyprus, the Aegean sea and Balkans). How about we solve those problems first alongside the ridiculous economic situation within the EU before debating whether we should help those who shout ‘Death to the West’?

  7. avatar
    Tarquin Farquhar

    No, BUT the EU was powerless all the same.

    With a heavy and fearful heart, I fear that the EU needs to prepare for WW3…

    • avatar
      EU reform- proactive

      @Tarquin……..Igbo’s are no pessimist’s- aren’t they still on their way searching for the holy land? WWIII has to wait! Have you got any links to Elizabeth Allo Isichei & Ibo history?

  8. avatar
    Breogán Costa

    Which Spring? They were in a hard Autumn, but now they are entering in a long, long horrible winter…
    We are, too many times, just thinking in our transnational business, and we help the worse side. West interventions had given to us some petrol (when are going to be free of petrol dictatorship?), but they just helped ISIS and other radicals to grow up. Thanks to us, now they don’t have dictators, but they are suffering much more (and probably we are also going to suffer).
    Read this Washington Post article if you have doubts:

  9. avatar
    Pan Sol

    Three things are infinite in this world, the universe the human stupidity and hypocrisy of europeans when they call the return to midle ages SPRING

  10. avatar
    Arshid Mahmood

    I think Europe seriously needs to reconsider its role in world peace. how on earth we can speak of being liberators if we despite having the powers to resolve Palestine crisis tomorrow. but we refuse to as we are heavily funded by certain people to market our elections campaign. we cannot pick and chose who we help and who we don’t. that is business! until we don’t resolve Palestine I struggle to see world peace.

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @Arshid Mahmood
      The Palestinians escalated a regional conflict into a world conflict.

      When you add the duplicity of Hamas (a most inappropriate name for a Muslim organisation methinks?) to the equation and too the numerous countries in the world wherein Islamic extremists kill/convert/coerce in the name of a religion, one can understand why many people feel little empathy for the dreadful and painful plight of the Palestinians.

      It is truly a sad state of affairs.

  11. avatar

    All our dreams about democracy there are bullpoop…
    Instead of overthrowing autocrats,we should change our strategy.

    The opposition for the most countries consists of dozens of diffrent militias and you never know who is actually the representive one of the “rebels” and you never know who you ll get.
    But we know who Mubarak,Assad,Gaddafi and whoever are.Instead of overthrowing them give those guys weapon,money and intelligence help and when they crushed and COMPLETLY WYPED OUT THE OPPOSITION,then the people in the coountries have their save lifes back.then you use your money, economical influence and the fact that you secured that guys power and turn him into your poodle.Use him colaborate with him and then we shell have it the peace for the people there and for the security of our societies.

    • avatar

      There is no chance in stabilizing a failed and destabilized state.The only chance is to not let it become unstable in the first place and the easiest way to do so is to help the autocrats in those countries.And the best thing and least brutal possebility to do that is to stop every opposition movement in the beginning.Just do it before there are a 1000 people demonstrating or rioting.check out the communication of the people who organize those demonstration and then just “nip it in the bud”.
      If we would have done that in syria in the fist place there would have been like 100 dead people instead 200k

  12. avatar

    Arab Spring ? Most social convulsions in traditional islamic countries have nothing to do with democracy as westerners might like to think. It’s “new” versus “corrupt old,” but “new” is not necessarely good. “New” will always take revenge on “corrupt old”, and nine out of ten times, the will end up in a blood bath. So I rather go with “charismatic leaders” able to keep things under control, instead of giving “power to the people” and end up with endless talibans.

    • avatar

      Nicely put! Too bad most Western ‘experts’ advice consisted of a deadly cocktail of ignorance, wishful thinking and arrogance. The saddest part is that it was all there for us to see. If you were willing to accept reality, that is. The few people who actually understand the Middle East, its culture and dynamics, who predicted that the Arab spring will turn into an Islamist winter, were marginalized and ridiculed as fear-mongers, Orientalists, right-wing nuts and even Zionists.

      I hope someone does an academic study of what these “experts” were saying when the upheavals began. It should make for an entertaining, albeit very said, read.

  13. avatar
    catherine benning

    Every time I come here Europe reveals its insane obsession with delving into and interfering in countries outside it’s domain, whilst at the same time, ignores it’s dire internal mess and the problems associated with its bullying overseers.

    Why is that I wonder?

    It backs brutality, in our name, in parts of the world where it is seen as politically incorrect to dare speak out. (Palestine, the killing machine in that same area next to Egypt because it is not PC to call t accounts Jews reliving their biblical prophesy, whilst Europe continues to claim religious content must be looked at with superstitions and disbelief if it is Christian and RC, an off shoot of the Torah, deep in the midst of Europe’s own tradition and education) Yet, it worries about the Arab Spring an Islamic organisation not connected to us, except for political war mongering.

    What business is it of the appointed, not elected, European commission what goes on with Islamic life elsewhere, unless of course, they fear it will affect their political affiliations with Israel as that may upset their US leaders and get in the way of the marching Capitalist war machine we are forced to embrace. Anyone remember being asked what we feel about this situation in our election briefings?

    I think a bigger worry the EU should concentrate on, are the weapons of mass destruction their American masters are playing with in order to keep us European tax payers in control. Why are they not centering on our connections and political ‘Spring’ like in the one going on in Ukraine, financially backed by the EU/US/UK and its connection to its war with Russia. Which is really the underlying political shenanigans that creates their disturbance by what the ‘Arab Spring’ may produce that is not likely to fit with their plan for globalisation.

    And what these mad men are now contemplating for us all to use on our fellow man, whilst Europe plays the lets pretend game of being the goody two shoes in the world order.

    And remember people, we are footing the bill for this monstrosity with our hard earned taxes. Again, do you remember being consulted on this issue and whether you felt this was your money being well spent?

  14. avatar
    Natan Simonian

    Europe should support Arab world’s transition towards democracy as well the fight against terrorism.

  15. avatar
    Jaume Roqueta

    I see EU is not interested in democratic arab countries. They did nothing for them, just the contrary, funding extremism groups and dictatorships. EU economy would be devilitated with democratic arabic countries. USA funded ISIS instead of the pacifist movements in Syria. We are not inteterested in democracy, just the contrary. Look how EU and governments responds when population ask for more democracy in crisis! Look your police, it is looking militar. EU and ISRAEL are the same philosophy, at least their lobbies.

  16. avatar

    The western world isn’t interested in democracy. Don’t believe anything they say. Look at all the brutal dictatorships that the western world happily supports (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Equatorial Guinee etcetera).

    As long as these ridiculous borders drawn by arrogant colonial powers (Britain, France) are there, you will have unrest. You can’t just carve countries on a map ignoring ethnic, tribal and religious realities and expect them to ever become stable democracies. Most of those countries in Africa and the Middle East that are on paper democracies, are in reality dictatorships of whoever happens to be the largest ethnic group.

    Remove the dictators, and in all cases you will have unrest. The colonial powers ignored ethnic reality, ignored groups like the Tuaregs and the Kurds and that is coming back to bite us now. We caused enough mess already, our involvement (in the sense of western world intervention) has only ever made things worse.

    Apart from that, we plunder or enable corporations to plunder resources all over the place and pay a fraction of what it is really worth, helping to prop up a tiny wealthy elite whilst the vast majority remains dirt poor.

    And all this talk of ‘we must intervene’ and trying to build a case for humanitarian war (whatever that is) is nothing but more of that late 19th century imperial colonial jingoism that seems so prevalent today amongst politicians and the media.

    No more interventions, for any reason. Period. At least, not until all the jingoist members of the media and politicians who argue for war are made to serve on the front lines themselves rather than sending other people’s children to die.

  17. avatar
    György Gajdos

    There is not much Europe could have or could not have done over there. Fundamentally a large number of Arab countries were unstable and artificial because of the very tribal nature of the constituting ethnic/religious groups. It took dictators like Saddam, Kadafi and Assad and Mubarak to keep those countries together by force. As soon as the dictators are gone or weaken the ethnic/religious groups can not tolerate each other enough to make a stable democracy. So for start these countries have to be allowed to reshape themselves into more homogeneous and stable new countries. Europe should first create a common army of say 70….100 thousand soldiers and a political institution of European Defense Ministry.

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