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Workshop Report: "Europe and the Arab Region Post January 2011. Coping with Multifaceted Challenges"

News from Jul 02, 2012


KFG-DGAP Workshop held on 8-9 June 2012, convened by Dr. Sally Khalifa Isaac and Dr. Assem Dandashly.



by Sally Khalifa Isaac


The workshop "Europe and the Arab Region Post January 2011. Coping with Multifaceted Challenges" was organized by the KFG in cooperation with the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP) in June 8-9, 2012. It focused on the debate regarding Euro-Arab relations post Arab uprisings, and how Europe can effectively reinvent its role in the region amid challenging security, political, economic and social contexts. Distinguished scholars and experts on the topic from different disciplines and from the Middle East, Europe and the United States participated in the workshop and presented their analytical views and perspectives on this important debate.

On the eve of June 8, the workshop started with a key-note speech by Ambassador Dr. Amin Shalaby,  Executive Director of the Egyptian Council on Foreign Affairs, entitled "The European Union and the Arab Uprisings: Challenges and Prospects". This was followed by an opening "Policy Panel", moderated by Dr. Henning Hoff from the DGAP, that gathered four distinguished panelists: Ambassador Amin Shalaby, the executive director of the Egyptian Council on Foreign Affairs; Ambassador Shimon Stein from Israel, Dr. Ghada Karmi from Palestine and KFG Research Director Prof. Dr. Thomas Risse from Freie Universität Berlin. The panel functioned to initiate a constructive policy-oriented discussion, with a considerable dose of realism, on the various dimensions that the workshop sessions would deal with in the following day, June 9. For that purpose, the panel triggered discussion on what Arab countries in transition expect from Europe and the limitations on Europe's role in this process. It also triggered discussion on the prospects for peacemaking in the Middle East, and what Europe's prospects as a broker in the process could be.

The workshop proceeded on the second day (June 9) with three panels:

The first panel, entitled "General Assessment of Euro-Arab Relations Post January 2011", attempted to provide an overall assessment of the EU response to the Arab revolutions. Gergana Noucheva presented a paper on "A New EU Strategy for the Neighbourhood? The Impact of the Arab Spring on the European Neighbourhood Policy", and argued that the momentous changes in the Mediterranean provoked a rethinking of the EU's approach to the region but that the policy change that followed did not constitute a real strategy for the neighborhood. In this sense, she concluded, the introduced policy change leaves key policy questions unanswered and fails to offer a clear vision for neighborhood security, economic development, and democratization.

In his co-authored paper "Structural competition in Arab Mediterranean societies: Islamist parties and European foreign policy after the Arab uprisings", Charles Thépaut (together with Stephan Keukeleire) argues that the rise of political Islam in the aftermath of Arab uprisings offers a new challenge to the EU in dealing with its southern partners. Thereupon, the authors argue that the foundations of Euro-Arab dialogue have to be revisited and that the EU should focus on a balanced approach towards religiosity in the Arab Mediterranean countries.

The second panel, entitled "Case Studies and the Role of Arab Actors", focused on the two case studies of Egypt and Tunisia, as well as on the external role of Arab actors, mainly those of the Gulf States and the Arab League. In his paper "Managing International Assistance to Egypt after January 2011", Khaled Zakaria Amin provided analyses of the political economy context of Egypt before January 2011 and how international donors – including the EU - managed their assistance to Egypt over one decade before the uprising. He then discussed the environment in which the international donors would manage their assistance to Egypt after January 2011 in an attempt to explore new mechanisms that these donors should consider in managing assistance in the future.

Workshop co-convenor Assem Dandashly presented a paper on the EU democratization efforts in Tunisia, arguing that supporting democracy is a necessary condition for guaranteeing a stable and secure southern border, and that economic growth is a necessary condition for consolidating democracy and political reforms in Tunisia.

In discussing the roles of external Arab actors, workshop co-convenor Sally Khalifa Isaac presented a paper on "The Limits and Prospects for Euro-Gulf Collaboration in Arab Transitions". The paper highlights the centrality of the Gulf role in the Arab uprisings with the main goal of maintaining the political stability in the wide Arab region. Then, the paper moves to assess the limits of European influence in the Gulf, due to a continuing disjuncture between European interests and Gulf priorities. The author finally concludes that Euro-Gulf collaboration post January 2011 is both needed and possible, and offers a set of recommendations for enhancing future cooperation between the two sides.

Finally, Vera van Hüllen presented a paper on the new role of the Arab League in the changing regional context post January 2011. The paper argues that the Arab League has been an active player in regional and international politics since January 2011, even though its success in terms of conflict management remains open for debate. The author also highlights how the active role of the Arab League post January 2011 has been dependent on individual countries – especially the Gulf States – as drivers of collective action. 

The third panel, entitled "Europe and External Actors in The Arab Revolutions", focused on the role of external actors such as the United States and Turkey in Arab uprisings. It also included the discussion of the Israeli perspective of the developments in the Arab region and the relevance of the Palestinian question.

The first paper in this panel was presented by Astrid B. Boening on the transatlantic link and EU foreign policy towards its southern neighborhood. The paper sought to discuss several aspects pertaining to the transatlantic relationship in the post January 2011 Euro-Mediterranean context.

A second paper was presented by Benoit Challand on "How new can the EU aid policies be vis-a-vie Arab countries after the Arab spring? Some Lessons from the Palestinian Case". The paper examines the EU's past policies, particularly aid policies, towards the Palestinians in order to understand what the EU's stance is in relation to the Arab revolts. Used as an analytical prism, aid disbursed by the EU reveals another dimension of the widening gap between rhetoric and reality in terms of EU policy towards the Palestinian question. The paper argues that the risk for the EU is that despite the emphasis on "deep democracy", its new policies might reinstall the biases of the Barcelona Process, where processes of Euro-Mediterranean cooperation were deeply skewed in favor of economic and security terms.

A third paper was presented by Amichai Magen, who gave an Israeli perspective on the "Arab Spring". This paper provides a “view from Jerusalem” on strategic assessment of the Arab revolts. It points out some of the key differences in perspective on the meaning and consequences of the “Arab Spring” between Israel and its main Western partners, and demonstrates how Israel’s evaluation of the dramatic, often violent events around it have evolved over the past eighteen months. The paper then proceeds to examine Israel’s policy responses to the Arab revolts so far. It contends that, in this context, the Jewish State is currently guided by four mutually reinforcing principles, which can be summarized as: Strategic silence; asset preservation; avoiding diversion from the Iranian nuclear threat, and; searching for new friends and sources of influence in an increasingly hostile region.

Finally, a fourth paper was presented by Bilgin Ayata on Turkey as an emerging regional actor in the Middle East, particularly post January 2011. The paper discusses the potentials and pitfalls of Turkey's recent changes in foreign policy, and evaluates to what degree it can play a key role in the transformation processes that are undergoing in the Arab region. The paper touches on the wide debate on the applicability of the 'Turkish Model' for its neighbors, as well as debates on Turkey's proactive engagements in the region. It advocates that while Turkey's popularity under the leadership of Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party is skyrocketing in the Middle East, inconsistencies in its foreign policy initiatives, its unresolved Kurdish conflict at home as well as the stagnation in the EU accession process are casting doubts on to what degree Turkey can actually fulfill an expanded role in its neighborhood.