Democracy-TunisThe Arab Spring held so much promise. However, five years after the wave of protests and revolutions that swept North Africa and the Middle East, much of that promise looks unfulfilled. Tunisia is widely regarded as a success story, having adopted a new constitution and held free elections in 2014. However, Libya descended into civil war, Morocco and Algeria are both considered by observers to be authoritarian regimes, and Egypt suffered a military coup in 2013 leading to “the most repressive regime in Egypt’s modern history”.

Instability in North Africa has consequences for neighbouring regions, including Europe. Violence in Libya (and the political vacuum allowing smugglers to operate unimpeded) has been one of the driving forces behind the current refugee crisis. In addition, Al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State have been working to establish strongholds in North Africa, potentially using them as bases to recruit, train, plan, and launch attacks.

Logically, bringing peace and stability to its southern neighbourhood should be a top European priority. But can peace and stability be achieved whilst at the same time promoting democratisation? Is it better for Europe to ignore human rights abuses, and focus on trade, investment, job creation, and education? On the other hand, can sustainable peace exist without democracy?

On 1 June 2016, Debating Europe attended an event held in Brussels by our partner think tank, Friends of Europe. The event brought together policymakers and experts from across Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, looking at ways to promote democracy, stability, prosperity, and peace. We put some of your questions to the speakers at this event.

We had a comment from Anne, who argued that the promise of the Arab Spring has gone unfulfilled in North Africa. If Anne is right, what would be the most effective way to guarantee peace and security in North Africa and the Middle East? And what part can Europe play in that?

To get a reaction, we spoke to Ahmed Galal, Egypt’s former Finance Minister (2013-2014), and currently Managing Director of the Economic Research Forum (ERF).

galalConflicts in the region have different causes. The problem in Israel-Palestine is one problem, the problem in Iraq is a different problem, the problem in Libya is different, and in Syria, and so on. Therefore, the solution to these problems has to be tailored to the root causes of the problem in that particular country.

For example, I think the Palestinian-Israeli problem has lived on for too long. It’s the only country that’s formally occupied in the world right now. I think it’s an apartheid system. I think Israel has the right to exist, yes, but the Palestinians have the right to co-exist as well…

As another example, the problem in Libya is that Qaddafi was a terrible dictator, but the West left a vacuum when it got rid of him. Libya doesn’t have institutions, doesn’t have the army, it is ethnically divided, so you have multiple countries in one country…

So, these are two examples. The way to resolve these problems will differ. And the role of the EU will differ. And in some cases they will have an important role to play, and in some cases they really won’t…

For another perspective, we spoke to Alexander De Croo, Belgian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Development Cooperation. How would he respond to Anne?

de_crooThe first question is should we play a role? Yes, it’s our backyard and it would be illogical not do so. So, what is the most effective way to play a role? It’s a combination of two things: First, it’s an emphasis on human rights, and really always bringing that to the table. Second, the most powerful vector of development and democracy is economic growth.

When people have economic prospects, it takes away the reason for violence and for not respecting human rights. So, investing, doing trade, and being an economic partner is one of the best things Europe can do. We have shown that again and again. We started with six European countries, we became twenty-eight, and this is the main reason why Eastern and Central Europe are more-or-less stabilised, because of economic growth and trade.

Finally, we put the same question to Sergio Piccolo, Adviser on the Southern European Neighbourhood Policy at the European Commission, Directorate-General for Neighbourhood and Enlargement Negotiations. What would he say?

piccoloThis is the most tricky issue. We have witnessed many wars over the last 20 or so years in the region, fortunately a bit less in the Maghreb region, but it’s really a difficult situation in the Middle East, and Libya included.

The EU is not the only actor in this region. Of course, we are the elephant in the room because we are in the Mediterranean. But you also have the US, the Arab League states, and major regional powers playing a role. In addition, sometimes EU Member States don’t have the same position on various issues.

So, it’s a really challenging puzzle that you have to solve in order to have peace and prosperity in the region. I think, sooner or later, we will reach that objective. But it’s extremely difficult, because we have to address many, many different layers and dimensions at the same time. So, any solution needs to involve domestic politics, political legitimacy, and also the different interests of many players around the region.

How can democracy be best promoted in North Africa? Would trade and investment help secure stability and prosperity? Or should the EU do more to promote democracy in the region? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – European Parliament

63 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    It is not Europe’s duty to promote Democracyvin North Africa. We can and probably should help if the opportunity arrises and the North Africans ask for our help and input but they need to want our help.

  2. avatar
    EU reform- proactive

    Who gave the EU a MANDATE and/or an order to interfere, meddle & instigate (“promote”) another conflict in countries of Muslim dominance?

    Please publish proof of receipt of such diplomatic request from any of these North African Muslim countries- longing for EU democracy- before embarking on the next subversion mission to Africa! Not in my name. Never heard to respect the right of self determination which is enshrined in our Universal Declaration of Human Rights? (UDHR-1948)

    It is well known that these countries are signatories to the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI- 1990- OIC Members) which affirms Islamic Sharia as its sole source.

    Another good reason to support Brexit!

    • avatar
      Tarquin Farquhar

      @EU Reform- Proactive
      Excellent informative post mein freund.

      I’m afraid that after the political assassination earlier this week in the UK, BREXIT will fail.

      Viva BREXIT 2!

    • avatar
      EU reform- proactive

      “The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

  3. avatar
    Noia Blackcat

    some countries want to export democracy so they can import other things such as oil… for example. so we should mind our own business sometimes.

  4. avatar
    Cãlin Rednic

    Democracy is mostly about tolerance and minding your own business as individual and getting involved in the peaceful way in the evolution of your country . Here you have the answer. When the people there will act in that sense and renounce to medieval ideas, they will CHOOSE by themselves this form of administration. It will be their first democratic act. Until then, it seems that the only viable form to promote democracy there is by example.

  5. avatar
    Rácz Tivadar

    Are you kidding?
    Is this an european issue?
    You haven’t got fed up with colonisation?

    Even the eu struggles with democratically tendencies, so hold on and try to clean up in front of your house.

    • avatar

      The migrants in Hungary are not a European issue… Well done, autist!

    • avatar

      The migrants in Hungary come from Turkey that is not in North Africa. Do you need a map?

  6. avatar

    First you cannot compare Morocco’s democratic transition with Algeria’s status quo. Please read here :

    Second, the EU needs to have a strategic vision and to design a real political offer to southern mediterranean countries. An offer that makes it possible for them to envision membership in the very long term, one or two generations (30 to 60 years), even with severe opt-outs on free visa mobility.

    The Romano Prodi doctrine (« everything but membership ») has emasculated Europe’s soft power to the south. You cannot encourage democracy if, as a start, you say « forget about membership ». It’s a stick without the carrot.

    The Prodi doctrine makes it more difficult for southern democrats to push for reform in their own countries because reform always implies a cost, winners and losers to indemnify.

    The Prodi doctrine also adds an additional burden on the shoulders of already weak countries : when investors hear « forget about membership », they demand higher profitability, higher risk premiums, shorter amortization calendars, enormeous derogatory regimes and state subventions.

    The result today is that if you add the GDP of all southern countries from turkey to mauritania, the sum is inferior to Italy’s GDP. And in this area more than 100 million new job seekers are coming before 2020, and this will have very direct consequences on the EU.

    Stability and democratization of the southern mediterranean is a matter of national security for the EU. Without it, migration and terrorism will continue to fuel european populism to the point that the EU will no longer be a democracy itself (like the very democratic Weimar Republic gave birth to the 3rd reich).

  7. avatar
    Toni Muñiz

    Obviously it will end up being some stupid idea which will end up with our taxed Euros being spent there. Who cares how those countries are run. We don’t even have democracy in the EU and you want us to worry about Africas democracy?

  8. avatar
    George Yiannitsiotis

    Democracy is not a product to be promoted! Democracy flourishes when a politically organized society reaches a certain level of self-consciousness. Conditio sine qua non the existence of a strong medium social stratum that holds much of the economic activity. Otherwise, totalitarian regimes arise. In the past, totalitarianism had roots in strong monarchical clans; nowadays, it is promoted by powerfull MNCs and “hedge funds” under the cover of “democracy”

  9. avatar
    任 妍妍

    民主不是普世价值。有些国家威权政府更合适。Step back, EU.

  10. avatar
    Christian Nenanu

    You can’t democratise a country with a majority of extremists. First u have to remove extremism from people heads or they will create and vote for extremists partys as governments. See Syria, Lybia, Iraq, Sudan, Mali, etc.

  11. avatar
    Dimitris Orfanoudis

    EU itself facing its own problems.. Better you look for the democracy in EU countries and forgot about democracy in N.Africa. If yu are taking as an example the Arab Spring then is better for you to quit any effort in regard of N.Africa.. Is very known that almost whole Africa and middle East countries ruled by a king or a dictator this is the way the people they want to live.. Democracy is a strange word for them….

  12. avatar
    György Gajdos

    Probably a great many Arab countries have to be divided into more stable countries first. The present countries are artificial and could only be held together by a dictator (Kadafi, Assad, Saddam etc) . As soon as there is no dictatorship the various ethnic/religious groups can not actually tolerate each other enough to make a democracy. So the maps have to be redrawn more accordingly to the actual tribalism that is a factual reality.

  13. avatar
    catherine benning

    Clearly North Africa doesn’t want this system and can’t handle it culturally. Leave them alone and fix the problems you have in Europe where the tax payer are paying you to do their bidding. That is your job, not Africa.

    • avatar
      EU reform- proactive

      Hi Catherine, did you notice DE’s deceitful usage of: “And what part can Europe play in that?” Fogging the EU as Europe as a “concealed diversion” by the EU master minders! Slip or intend?

      Going through all of “ANNE’s” (most valuable) comments from May 23rd, 2013- one can only wish the OUT supporters the best of good luck on the 23rd- to promote & initiate “peoples democracy” anywhere- incl. the EU!

  14. avatar
    Ilyas Hamada

    I think that EU has enough problems and had better spend its resources in solving them instead of bluffing about north Africa’s business.

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ EU reform- proactive

      Yes, I did notice. But more, I noticed how the EU is obsessed with expansionism and no matter what happens, such as the slaughter of millions of people in Iraq, Libya, Syria and on and on, they simply are blind, deaf and dumb to the horror being created throughout our world and to its people by their crazed objectives.

      They are not paid by the European tax payer to follow these policies. We were never advised when joining this ‘nut house’ that this was their intension when we went for it. It appears, their last interests are for the European people. They are using our money to fund their Napoleonic pursuits without our permission or compliance. Yet, leave our own people to starve at food banks instead of using their money and efforts to save their souls.

      And, as far as the OUT vote goes, a woman who was an MP in our country was shot dead yesterday by a crazed madman. He had been suffering from mental illness. Yet that poor woman’s death is being used, non stop, as a political ploy that belies sanity. Just as the killings in Orlando are being used in the US as a political game plan by Democrats.

      The British are writing the shot MP is as a result of Farage, his reasons for wanting out is the cause of this death. And the US are using Trump as the reason for the deaths of those 49 clubbers because, wait for it, ‘he’ is a racists. The killer there was a very sick man with a long term mental illness who was left to suffer with it for years and he himself was ‘Gay’ or Bi. Yet still the Democrats are using their blood to delude the American people into turning on another human being.

      Disgust is all I can feel. Utter disgust. It is leaders who are spreading hate whilst they point it at us. They began the PC hate crime.

      They are grasping at ugly straws.

  15. avatar

    They have to be left to put their money where their mouth is, so that we’ll be more coherent and nobody from the inside raises “concerns” (=undermines us) when we fulfil the EU.

  16. avatar
    Wael Messaoudi

    ديمقراطية دي تبقا خالتك !
    نحن دول العالم الثالث لا نحب الديمقراطية و هي أصلا مستحيل تطبق في أرضنا :)
    وسلملي على أمريكا و بوسلي فرانسا وبريطانيا.. و قلهم هديتكم الملغومة مرفوضة.

  17. avatar
    Moti Szamo

    North Africa should join the European Union. In this case all migration problems will be sloved!

  18. avatar
    Vinko Rajic

    Last 3 Years we had bad problem with democracy in the EU. Now we should solve EU problem . We have terrible problem now and we can’t tell anything to Africans if we are on the way to become Africa.

  19. avatar
    Laura de Pellegrino

    Erich fromm book – escape from freedom – explain it all. peaple don t know what to do whit freedom after they get it…

  20. avatar
    Luchian Mdm

    Democracy goes against the islamic faith by which women are not equal to men, non muslims are not equal to muslims and the only rule is that of Allah. The only way to promote anything close to democracy to people who do not want it… is by reforming Islam…which you can not do.

  21. avatar
    Lynne Warner

    Flatten the place and start again. If you haven’t fixed it yet and they can’t stop fighting long enough to fix it, it ain’t worth a damn.

  22. avatar
    Ana Lúcia Sttau Monteiro

    There you are again, what about promoting it in Europe???????????????????? Are you crazy ppl or are you blind? There is NO Democracy in Europe!!!!!

  23. avatar

    Honestly, I don’t know, why exactly to promote democracy in a region where day by day life and traditions are so incompatible with the principles and values Democracy stand for. What’s for Europe’s citizens to support the so-called “Arab Spring” (hornet’s nest) and by the end of the day to have millions of refugees forcing Europe’s borders and everything that comes with massive populations displacement ?

  24. avatar
    João Roque

    Democracy cannot be promoted to people that still live very much so in a trible mind set and even the notion that democracy is something that can be imposed to other countries makes little sense and it’s very anti democratic

  25. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    You can’t have a Facebook or a blog answer to such a complex problem. Having written (said) that, the right people to ask are those who live in North Africa and know what they want or what they would like to have.
    Western, European answers to an African problem have been attempted by nations for centuries and all have obviously failed. To keep looking for answers in the same minds is tantamount to paranoia.
    Lest we forget the Balfour Declaration, the Iraq invasion, just to name a couple of failed attempts at democracy on foreign lands, albeit not in North Africa itself.

  26. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    You can’t have a Facebook or a blog answer to such a complex problem. Having written (said) that, the right people to ask are those who live in North Africa and know what they want or what they would like to have.
    Western, European answers to an African problem have been attempted by nations for centuries and all have obviously failed. To keep looking for answers in the same minds is tantamount to paranoia.
    Lest we forget the Balfour Declaration, the Iraq invasion, just to name a couple of failed attempts at democracy on foreign lands, albeit not in North Africa itself.

  27. avatar

    You can’t have a Facebook or a blog answer to such a complex problem. Having written (said) that, the right people to ask are those who live in North Africa and know what they want or what they would like to have.
    Western, European answers from experts to an African problem have been attempted by nations for centuries and all have obviously failed. To keep looking for answers in the same minds is tantamount to paranoia.
    Lest we forget the Balfour Declaration, the Iraq invasion, just to name a couple of failed attempts at democracy on foreign lands, albeit not in North Africa itself.

  28. avatar
    eusebio manuel vestias pecurto vestias

    Stop Wars in World

  29. avatar

    Ahmed Galal, Gaza is not the only occupied country at the moment, so is Cyprus. And no the “problem” between “Palestine” and Israel is not a one-off. There have been “problems” between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East since Islam was created as a religion. Please, read some history before you speak, so you don’t sound so propagandistic. Palestine only came to exist after the Romans renamed Judea to that in order to break the local element which refused to worship the Roman Emperor as a god due to their own religion and devotion to one god only. Genetic testing is showing that Israelis and Palestinians are the closest relatives to each other, pointing to the fact that this was once one and the same people that separated due to religion. May I remind you, Ahmed, of Muhammed’s campaigns and wars against those that opposed him and his new religion? Across several countries people have been left with no option but to convert down the centuries, Ahmed. But the Israelis will not be converting and will not be jihaded out of Israel.

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ Yasmine

      You need to go over history more thoroughly. The Romans of 3000 years ago have nothing to do with the state of Palestine as it was and is the Israel of today.

      Palestine was mandated by the British. Both Jews and Muslims lived side by side in peace there at that time. People are still living that remember those days. Although, as years go by they become less. The cause of the take over of the then area of Palestine, where it is now referred to as Israel, was concocted by and created by a group of people who called themselves Zionists. They later created the Irgun political group. This group came into force long BEFORE WWII around the mid 1890’s. Much later they were led by a Polish man called Menachem Begin, who gathered a group of terrorists, calling themselves Zionists, who bombed the British in the King David Hotel to get them to concede to their wishes of taking the land of Palestine in the area once known thousands of years before as Israel, according to Jewish writings.

      After WWII the UK saw the creation of Israel as indeed a solution to the Jewish question and went along with this pact called ‘The Balfour Declaration’ after Lord Balfour, a Brit who had made a deal with the Rothschild’s, to allow the takeover of a part of Palestine and rename it Israel.This was supposedly the area of land settled by the Jews who fled Egypt with their leader of that time called Moses. Which is where the notion came from that it belonged to the Zionist group because they were Jewish and even though they were Polish, were descendants of the Moses group from Egypt, where they, as a people had once, thousands of years before, been enslaved.

      Menachem Begin was a terrorist and led his Irgun political group to move en masse into the villages and peoples already long known as Palestinians and remove them by force. He later became the leader of the Israeli people and, believe it or not, was given a Nobel Peace Prize. Akin to Barack Obama.

      So, you see, you need to study history more open mindedly before preaching to others about their lack of knowledge. Which can be taken on from here with a little easy research and find out the truth about the State of modern Israel.

      As a little taster here is an account of the bombing of The King David Hotel and the killing of the British rule of that part of Palestine.

      And film with far more knowledge of reality.

  30. avatar

    Could you first explain to us why we need to discuss North Africa in an EU debate? I think that the countries should be left to become democratic when their societies have matured enough for it and feel the need for it. Enough with intervening from outside like some kind of arrogant deus-ex-machina imposing on people cultures and political systems that they don’t understand and don’t express them.

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      @ Yasmin:

      Then, if you don’t want to be called on your lack of accurate history on a subject, don’t try to shove trash down the throats of visitors to this website, whilst pretending to be knowledgeable on the subject you claim to be expert of. Calling others lacking and claiming you know more, when clearly you do not, is unkind. As someone, if not me, will indeed put you and the rest of the readers here straight.

      This website is not filled with the ignorant as you appear to imply.

    • avatar

      Can’t you see, in spite of a long post, you haven’t put anyone straight and you haven’t posted anything to contradict mine? I stand by the contents of my post and I hope that Ahmed Galal reads it.

  31. avatar
    EU reform- proactive

    Can one respectfully demand an explanation from EPP member & EC President JC Juncker- after the Brussels Declaration was issued in 2012?


    * anybody (& who?) in the EU hierarchy is an expert on Islamic law, understand its Islamic interpretation & respects Islamic Human Rights?
    * anyone in the EC has studied & can explain the long term impact of Islamic immigration; the changes & adaption required by our society to guarantee peaceful coexistence?
    * the EU has a plan to “manage” the TOTAL incompatibility between the West’s democratic institutions & Islam’s Sharia- & how?
    * the EU has regular consultative diplomatic contact with the OIC to avoid conflicts?
    * there is a will to preserve (the rather “decadent”) western civilization or to allow its destruction- in favor of Islam?
    * there is an intent to invite Muslim immigration in order to hasten the process for demographic reasons, uncontrolled import of mostly cheap labor & big families- which probably overburden our social services?
    * it is unplanned & just an “unexpected” opportunity to do so?
    * there is a progress report on the Brussles Declaration from 2012 & its success?

    Thank you.

  32. avatar

    Democracy promotion should be fairly easy to do passively. All the EU should need to do is be a set of shining examples of democracy working for the benefit of the people. A sort of ‘if they build it they will come’ approach.

  33. avatar
    Jal M'deo

    Why do people still believe in a democratic ideal when not one single European country can stand up as a working example?

    Secondly, why do people still believe that non democratic states either want democracy or would in fact be workable as a democracy? I had met several elderly Africans in the Sub-Saharan continent, who asked why the British cannot take bake the independance given 60 years ago!! Odd, but they had a list of benefits before their freedom,, basic living benefits, which they no longer had. I have also encountered a great number across the north who want nothing to do with democracy only because it is seen as a link and influence of the West. highlights a good deal of just what negative influence is being spread by Saudi and Turkey very specifically against democratic values. So no, democracy only works when everyone plays by the same rules. That never happens and will never happen.

  34. avatar

    Coronavirus will start Arab Spring 2.0

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