“Eurabia”: the concept and the phenomenon

The recent upheavals in the Arab world, as well as the demographic phenomena in Europe have brought into the lights the idea of “Eurabia”, a concept far more complex than what it was considered several years ago, when it was launched by researcher Bat Ye’or[1].

Most analysts of the phenomenon sustain that Europe is rapidly being transformed into “Eurabia” – a synthesis of Arab and European culture, a grand cultural project undertaken by European and Arab elites to create an open Mediterranean zone of economic, demographic and cultural symbiosis between Europe and the Arab world.

In her book, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis (2005), Bat Ye’or denounced this project as a foolish alliance in which Europeans think that by helping the Arabs destroy Israel, they can use the Arabs to isolate and compete with America. In fact, she argues, the Europeans’ sacrifice of Israel will only whet the appetite of Islamists who aim to take over Europe as well. In this sense, Eurabia represents an extreme version of the Jihad Paradigm, an alarming if not alarmist update of Samuel Huntington’s 1996 thesis about the Clash of Civilizations. Eurabia anticipates a militarily weaker tribal population taking over and transforming a larger but declining “greater civilization,” a process that has not occurred since the fall of the Roman Empire.

Beyond its alarmist-conspiratorial side, Bat Ye’or’s book represents a significant contribution to the understanding of the relationship between the Islamic peoples of the Mediterranean Basin and the European states organized in the European Union. The author has raised a question of critical importance: whether a cultural war, or, to use the expression of Bernard Lewis and Samuel P. Huntington, a “clash of civilizations” is in progress between the Islamic world and the West, and Europe in particular.

Bat Ye’or advances the well-documented interpretation that, from 1974, the Arab world entered into an agreement with the EU, led by France. The price which the Arab countries demanded for an assured supply of fuel and presumably protection from terror was that Europe realigns its foreign policy in complete support of the Arab cause. Europe should withdraw its support for Israel and work for its destruction; Europe should open its doors to large numbers of immigrants from Islamic lands and accept the new populations without attempting to integrate them culturally; Europe should change its cultural orientation to one which is Islamic and based on the model of the Mediterranean Basin taken as a harmonious economic unit.

The goal of “Eurabia” is to bring together the two shores of the Mediterranean with the interests of European society mirroring the interests of the Arab world. There should be a homogenization of culture, politics, and policy between the two shores. As a byproduct, American leaders have to deal with the growing “Eurabian” political culture instead of the former European body politic.

Arabs in Europe: deeper historic and cultural roots

Arabs in Europe have a long history, beginning with the Arab Empire when the Arabs conquered the Iberian peninsula and the island of Sicily in Italy. Even if most of the Arabs of that time were expelled after the Reconquista, they left behind a considerable cultural heritage, and many of the people in the Iberian peninsula, Malta, and Sicily retain some genetic ties to the Arabs that controlled these territories in the past. There were also brief periods of independent Arab-Islamic colonization and occupation, in modern-day France, Switzerland, and Italy, using Fraxinet in the Gulf of St. Tropez as a base for raids and colonization.

Starting with the Dutch in Indonesia in the 17th century, and then during the late 19th century and into the 20th century, European colonial empires colonized regions with a Muslim majority (in North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and Malay archipelago) or large Muslim populations (in the Indian subcontinent and sub-Saharan Africa). This brought the European population into contact with Muslim populations, both as the army and civil administration in these new colonies, and with Muslim immigrants who came to the colonizing country.

The post-World War II migration of Arabs to Europe began as many Arabs from former French colonies like Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia, Lebanon and Syria migrated permanently to France. Another source of migration began with guest workers, particularly from Morocco, who arrived under the terms of a Labour Export Agreements between several European countries including Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Belgium, Austria and France.

After the colonies achieved independence, there was mass immigration from their former colonies. In the 1960s and early 1970s, guest workers were brought over by the governments of France, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Scandinavia. Another class of immigrants was the descendants of those who moved internally inside a European colonial empire and from there to the home country such as the descendants of indentured Indian laborers in the Caribbean.

Other events in the Arab world sent new immigration waves to Europe like the Palestinian exodus, the Lebanese Civil War, and the first and second Iraq war. Many other Arabs immigrated to Europe because of political issues in their native countries. Another source of migration are the Arabs who studied in European universities and decided to stay.

After the recent events of the Arab uprising in Tunisia, around 20,000 Tunisian immigrants have left their country for France, migrating through Italy. Nicolas Sarkozy together with Angela Merkel have recommended suspending the Schengen Agreement and imposing border control in order to keep the Arabs from migrating to their countries, but no actions have yet been taken on the issue.

Today most Muslim immigrants come either as asylum seekers or as part of family reunification. Many of the second generation migrants marry spouses from their former homeland. Some countries have tried to cut down on such immigration by passing strict laws, such as the Danish 24 year rule.

According to the German Central Institute Islam Archive, the total number of Muslims in Europe in 2007 was about 53 million (7.2%), excluding Turkey. The total number of Muslims in the European Union in 2007 was about 16 million (3.2%).

Europe and the Mediterranean countries are bound by history, geography and culture. At the crossroads of the European, African and Asian continents, the Mediterranean region presents political and economic challenges that have recently re-launched the debate on Euro-Mediterranean integration and cooperation. The littoral States share geographical features and a past that has been shaped by some of the greatest civilizations of the world. Despite such elements of unity, the Mare Nostrum is still divided along two main fractures: “north-south” and “east-west”, but, according to most analysts, the gaps are beginning to close. Which side will be stronger?

Demography and religion: threats or challenges for Europe?

A recent Associated Press analysis concluded that Europe’s Muslim population, excluding Russia, will double by 2020. It is mostly based on the fact that almost 85% of Europe’s total population growth in 2005 was due to immigration in general. The Turkish researcher Omer Taspinar[2] predicts that the Muslim population of Europe will nearly double by 2015, while the non-Muslim will shrink by 3.5%, due to the higher Muslim birth rate. Other estimates mention that by 2050, one in five Europeans is likely to be Muslim.

Other analysts are skeptical about these forecasts and the accuracy of the claimed Muslim population growth, since there has been a sharp decrease in Muslim fertility rates. A Pew Forum study, published in January 2011, forecasts an increase of Muslims in European population from 6% in 2010 to 8% in 2030. PEW also found that Muslim fertility rate in Europe would drop from 2.2 in 2010 to 2.0 in 2030. On the other hand, the non-Muslim fertility rate in Europe would increase from 1.5 in 2010 to 1.6 in 2030.

The most significant element of these statistic evaluations is that growth in Arab/Muslim components of the population contributed the most to counter the demographic decline of the “Christian” Europe. Presently, across Europe, there are only two-thirds the number of children born necessary to sustain the population. The consequent drop in population has mostly been made good by immigration of Muslims. The fast-growing Muslim population is generally not integrated into the host societies nor politically acculturated to its norms. To the contrary, radical Islamic movements are gaining in strength among these émigré populations.

This prospect is all the more significant when considered alongside the decline of European Christianity. In the Netherlands, Britain, Germany, Sweden and Denmark today, fewer than 1 in 10 people now attend church once a month or more. Some 52 percent of Norwegians and 55 percent of Swedes say that God did not matter to them at all. While the social and sexual freedoms that matter to such societies are antithetical to Muslim fundamentalism, their religious tolerance leaves these societies weak in the face of fanaticism.

A creeping Islamisation of a decadent Christendom is said to be one conceivable result: while the old Europeans get even older and their religious faith weaker, the Muslim colonies within their cities get larger and more overt in their religious observance. A backlash against immigration imposed by the extreme right is another: aging electorates turn to demagogues who offer sealed borders without explaining who exactly is going to pay for the pensions and health care. The third possible outcome would be a fusion between rapidly secularized second-generation Muslims and their post-Christian neighbors. According to Niall Ferguson, we may conceivably end up with all three: Situation 1 in France, Situation 2 in Austria and Situation 3 in Britain[3].

Can Europe still be Europe if, for instance, in 2050 most young people under the age of 15 in Austria are Muslims? And when Muhammad today is already the most common name for newborn boys in Brussels and Amsterdam, and the third most common in England?

If some authors have dubbed the old continent “Eurabia” and see it — due to higher birthrates among immigrants — as a future outpost of the “Islamic world empire”, Cristopher Caldwell[4] doesn’t sound the same alarmist tones in his book, but he is convinced that “it is certain that Europe will emerge changed from its confrontation with Islam. It is far less certain that Islam will prove assimilable”.

Caldwell says that Muslims are a small minority, but Europe is changing its structures because of them: “When an insecure, malleable, relativistic culture meets a culture that is anchored, confident and strengthened by common doctrines, it is generally the former that changes to suit the latter”.

Great Britain is the most disturbing example cited by many pessimists. Although just under 3 percent of the British population are Muslims, primarily from Pakistan and Bangladesh, nowhere else in Europe do so many of them live totally isolated from the rest of society — in cities like Bradford, Dewsbury and Leicester. For the past two years, British Muslims have also been able to turn to Islamic arbitration tribunals that are based on Sharia law. Their decisions are legally binding for both parties in a conflict. If necessary, a British bailiff will come to enforce the sentence. This is unique in Europe.

The “Arab spring”: Muslims embracing “European” values

The start to 2011 has shown that the Middle East North Africa region (MENA) is vulnerable to the domino effect. It has also shown Western societies that the people of Arab Muslim societies have aspirations aligned to economic liberalization, educational reform, and greater political representation. In effect, the actions of the civil society of Egypt have not only put their dictator to question, but they have also put the greater international community’s ideals to question, regarding the process of democratization and the role of human rights and economic reform. In few weeks, these relatively disorganized secular revolutionaries have achieved considerable outcomes that were not achieved by their Islamist counterparts in a period of three decades. The argument apparently suggests the failure of Islam as a political and social project for peoples of the region. However, this does not mean the complete disappearance of Islam from the Arab political scene. Islam has reinvented itself in a new form. Even though Islam is not a centric factor triggering the uprisings, its importance is displayed in many different ways by different actors.

The 2011 popular uprisings in the Arab world, when compared to those movements of the 1970s and 1980s, are similar yet not identical. In the 70s and 80s the major agents of change were the Islamists who saw of Islamic revivalism a solution to their social marginalization and political isolation. The recent “revolutions” were driven by ordinary individuals with no specific ideological affiliations; their demands are pragmatic in nature and are in pursuit of bettering their livelihood. The question that springs from this observation is whether political Islam in its revolutionary form has failed to present itself as an alternative political and social project for the young generations of the Middle Eastern and North African countries as it previously did to their ancestors?

According to a Brookings Institution analysis issued last March[5], many of the Arab countries that are now experiencing rebellions should not be considered development failures; in many ways, they are actually development successes. The democratization movement that is beginning to take shape in the Arab world is a result of development progress and not because it has failed at development. This imbalance between socio-economic development and democratization is what the 2010 Human Development Report has referred to as the “democratic deficit” in the Arab world.

In the 2010 UN Human Development Report’s assessment of progress, five Middle Eastern countries are in the top 10 in terms of improvements in the Human Development Index. They include Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco, and Egypt is not far behind. The advances in this region are mainly due to significant improvements in health and education. Even Libya and Iran do well in this long-term assessment despite very low or even negative growth because they saw very rapid advances in life.

This argument retakes the hypothesis put forward by American sociologist Seymour Martin Lipset more than 50 years ago that the demand for democracy is a result of broader processes of modernization and development expectancy and school enrollments.

The 2011 protests in the Middle East have more in common with the popular revolutions that changed the world map in the late 20th century: peaceful (until the government’s thugs turned up), popular (no Robespierre or Trotsky running things behind the scenes), and secular (Islam has hardly reared its head). Driven by the power of its citizens, Egypt’s upheaval could lead to a transformation as benign as those in Eastern Europe. It remains to be seen whether the countries of the Arab world convulsing after decades of political oppression want to and are able to transition to a form of democracy enjoyed by many in the West.  In any case, the experience of Europe offers useful guidance for those seeking a region where individuals are politically and economically free.

According to most of the evaluations, the recent Arab uprisings are not only a fight against economic disparity and social injustice, but also a fight for identity and dignity. It is the effort made by the Arab peoples to seek modernity and regain their rightful place in the world.

This is considered to be the third wave of Arab renaissance. Unlike the first and the second wave, which were led by elites, the third is led by ordinary people. The Arab world used to be a center of civilization, but Arabs see the last two centuries as a period of painful humiliation. Most Arab states still struggle to adjust to a swiftly changing, largely dominated by the West, and deeply globalized world. The current Arab uprisings are not only a fight against economic disparity and social injustice, but also a fight for identity and dignity. It is the effort made by the Arab people to seek modernity and regain their rightful place in the world.

Radical Islam, a product of the second wave, has proved to be a liability rather than an asset for many Arab countries. Even before the current Arab uprisings, radical Islam was in decline in the Arab world. After the United States launched the war against terrorism in 2001, a good part of the Muslim world began to realize that Islamic extremism had no future. The Arab Spring of 2011 has manifested that radical Islam is coming to an end.

In an interview for Spiegel magazine, French social scientist Emmanuel Todd[6] discussed the demographic roots of the Arab revolution, which he argued was spurred by rising literacy and rapidly shrinking birth rates. Revolutions in the Arab world could also have unfolded as a gradual evolution based on three factors: the rapid increase in literacy, particularly among women, a falling birthrate and a significant decline in the widespread custom of endogamy, or marriage between first cousins. This shows that the Arab societies were on a path toward cultural and mental modernization, in the course of which the individual becomes much more important as an autonomous entity. Todd considers that we are experiencing a de-Islamization of Arab societies, a demystification of the world, as Max Weber called it, and it will inevitably continue, just as a de-Christianization occurred in Europe.

The “Shoe-Thrower’s Index” of Arab unrest, published by The Economist in February 2011, also suggests that the spread of such upheavals may have been inevitable. It weighted several factors such as prevalence of youth, years of unchanged government, and corruption and lack of democracy indices. Top of the list for “potential for unrest” was Yemen – which scored almost 90 out of 100. Libya was next with 70, Egypt slightly lower in a tie with Syria and Iraq. People have taken to the streets to demand a say in government, for an end to state repression, and for jobs and improved living conditions that have left jobless up to one-quarter of the region’s youth – a bubble of 15-to-29-year-olds that, by one count, at 100 million strong, makes up a third of the Arab population.

Professor Asef Bayat[7] offers an examination of the notion of post-Islamism in his book “Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamic Turn”. The new revolutions of the Middle East are seen as evidence that people as human beings need freedom and liberty to pursue their own beliefs and lives to the utmost. In his other book “Life as Politics: How Ordinary People Change the Middle East”, Asef Bayat asks the question “is there a future for Islamic Revolutions?” in the region, and he answers it saying: “in the Muslim Middle East, the future is likely to belong to a kind of sociopolitical change that might be termed “post-Islamist revolution.”

Although a common thread links the movement in all the regions, its origins are not mono-causal. The common denominator is that the entire region seeks a total transformation of ruling political structures and processes, fundamental reforms in governance to foster social equity and emancipation of the poverty ridden classes. The specific issues can be placed in two categories:

–          The movements in Tunisia, Bahrain and Libya are more social than political or economic, engineered by unhappy tribal or sectarian maladjustments, aggravated by authoritarian rulers.

–          In Egypt, Yemen and Syria the roots lie in political, economic and sectarian dissatisfactions.

The real shakers and movers in the Arab world are the young generations familiar with the internet, face book and twitter and, thanks to them, cognizant of the happenings all over the world in terms of enlarging peoples’ rights, economic renaissance and upward mobility. They are better educated than previous generations but they lack adequate avenues of employment and personal development. Four out of every 10 among the Arab Mediterranean Countries’ 180 million people are between the ages of 15 and 34. Of these, 15% of men and 47% of women, equal to some 20 million young people, are neither in the educational system nor in the job market. If the work aspirations and creative strengths of the youth can be freed, the potential for economic growth, social cohesion and human fulfillment is enormous.

The European Union: challenging consequences of the Arab spring

Great anxieties about the Arab Spring upheavals are being felt in their neighborhood, especially the monarchies in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the gulf region. If the unrest spreads to these regions, absolutely unpredictable consequences can arise. Instability in Saudi Arabia will lead to severe repercussions in the oil and energy politics of the world. There are many who dread at the thought of instability in Saudi Arabia as it is also the custodian of the Muslim holy places of Mecca and Medina.

The recent developments in Libya are a significant example in which the West, to protect its concerns regarding hydrocarbons, has already co-opted the UN to justify the armed attacks against the Gaddafi regime. It has also set in motion the reconstitution of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), primarily of Arab Sheikhs and monarchs, but now to include also the kings of Jordan and Morocco. The GCC will be expected to provide counterweight to the republican Arab regimes if they emerge as hostile entities.

Part of the reason for the rapidly increasing number of “friends of Libya” is the prospect of lucrative contracts in the oil-rich country. As reported by Spiegel on 09/02/2011, the French daily Libération reported on what it claimed was a secret agreement between France and the rebels. According to the newspaper, the National Transitional Council sent a letter to the emir of Qatar, who is apparently serving as a middleman between Paris and the rebels, in the spring promising France 35 percent of Libya’s oil production in return for “its total and permanent support” of the Transitional Council as the legitimate representative of Libya. Reacting to criticism from London’s business community that the country was proceeding too slowly compared with their French and Italian rivals, British Foreign Secretary William Hague assured reporters that Britain “won’t be left behind.”

Most analysts agree that the Arab Spring presents a major challenge for Europe, since the masses that went to the streets in confronted their regimes in the name of the values that Europe wanted these regimes to adopt. With major multilateral institutions putting their resources to its service, with the EU as a major anchor, and with a possible new role for the Union for the Mediterranean, there is scope for much stronger interaction with a focus on new ways of working that would bring a closer economic integration.

Beginning in 1995, when the European Union initiated the Barcelona Process, Europe has worked to establish a zone of European influence in the southeastern flank of the Mediterranean, to be predicated on a free-trade area, political and security cooperation, and the respect of democracy, human rights, and a strong civil society. The European Neighborhood Policy of 2004 and the Union for the Mediterranean of 2008 are additional instruments in the same vein.

These existing instruments were bestowed by the EU on their neighbors. All pretend to offer partnership, but they do not. In fact, they were considered a tool to keep the neighbors at arm’s length, offering a range of economic concessions and a limited possibility of participating in some EU projects, programs, and European agencies and organizations. All lack the vision of full membership. Even the “partnership” status has been fully dominated and controlled by the EU. The neighbors had no hope of joining the EU and no sense of joint ownership of the three mechanisms of cooperation.

Events in Tunisia and Egypt, and unrest across the Arab world from Yemen to Sudan, have shown that Western stability policies for the southern and eastern shore of the Mediterranean were built on sand. For Europe, they are also a severe indictment of European “neighborhood” policies toward the Arab world.

While the future shape of the Mediterranean, which includes Europe, is still in the making, with many risks attached to the extraordinary transformations, after a bad start, some features of EU action there are becoming evident. The EU has gradually displayed a wide-range of different tools, from military might to humanitarian aid, from targeted sanctions to measures in the management of migration, and some rethinking of the longer term programmatic policies. It has also demonstrated some flexibility in using different policy and institutional formats by strengthening existing policies and using multilateral frameworks to back its engagement, from NATO to the UN and the Middle East Quartet. And it has cooperated with the African Union, the Arab League, the Organization of the Islamic Conference in the Cairo Group, as well as the international organizations on the ground. If the response of the EU to the Tunisian and Egyptian overthrow of their rulers revealed all the weaknesses of short-term crisis management, some of the pieces of the European contribution to reshaping the Mediterranean are now coming together. What remains scarcely visible is the thread holding them together.

EU followed the suit of other actors and the UN Security Council rather than take the lead and act swiftly. Changes within the newly created European External Action Service (EEAS) also came about slowly, with the Arab Spring spreading across the region while key officials had not yet been appointed. In June the final important post was filled by Christian Berger as Director for North Africa, Middle East, Arabian Peninsula, Iran and Iraq in the EEAS, and the European Council approved a much needed Special Representative (SR), to be nominated by the Member States (the name proposed is Bernardino Leon) but supported by a task force comprising officials from the EEAS, the Commission, the Member States, the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, and the European Investment Bank.

A Communication on migration was also published in May, a field which needs to be included to understand the EU’s response to the Arab Spring. In addition to the €5.7 billion available for 2011-2013, the Member States have also approved an additional financial package to of €1.242 billion (put together from existing resources) to address the new challenges up to 2013, and will welcome further suggestions to improve the procedures governing the neighborhood policy’s (ENP) financial instrument and make it more flexible for the next financial framework period (2014-2020).

One important shift in the paradigms behind EU engagement is the recognition that past policies rested on the assumption that authoritarianism was the bulwark against terrorism, Islamic fundamentalism, and for the containment of migration. The democracy-and-stability paradigm which littered EU declarations and intentions was far from being translated into practice. If this starting point were to be carried out it could lead to significant changes in diplomatic relations with countries on the Southern shore. One first consequence is a stronger commitment in the new documents to supporting political reform, pluralism, and processes that may lead to democratization, through the introduction of more focused objectives and benchmarks jointly negotiated with the partner governments. In response to the need to engage with the civil society actors that are emerging anew in the South Mediterranean (and as part of the year-long review of the ENP), the EU also proposes to pay much more attention to non-governmental actors through a new Civil Society Facility (a tool used in the Balkan countries) and by creating a new Endowment for Democracy.

Since its launch in November 1995, the Barcelona Process has remained the central instrument for Euro-Mediterranean relations. With the adoption of the Barcelona Declaration, the Process aims to establish a common area of peace, stability and prosperity in the Mediterranean. It represents an innovative alliance based on the principles of joint ownership, dialogue and cooperation between the 27 Members of the EU and ten southern Mediterranean States.

Renewed interest in the Mediterranean region was marked by the “Union of the Mediterranean”, an initiative launched by French President Nicolas Sarkozy in autumn 2007.

The pressures of the other EU countries excluded from the new project, especially Germany, determined the re-launch of the initiative under the name “Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean”. The latter was approved by the European Council in March 2008 and at the Paris Summit of 13 July 2008. The new Union for the Mediterranean comprises all EU countries, the European Commission and the EU Mediterranean partners plus Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Monaco and Montenegro, and so abandoned the idea of a solely Mediterranean political Union. The Union for the Mediterranean is a multilateral partnership that builds on the Barcelona Declaration and its objectives of achieving peace, stability and security. It preserves the acquis of the Barcelona Process and reinforces its achievements and successful elements.

The Energy trump card

Energy is a key sector for the development of the Mediterranean[8]. The southern Mediterranean maintains 5% of the global oil and natural gas reserves, shared among Algeria, Egypt and Libya. According to the Blue Plan estimations, energy demand in the Mediterranean may increase by 65 per cent before 2025, as a result of the influence of population growth and the increase in demand associated with economic development.

The EU receives 18 per cent of its natural gas imports from Algeria, Libya and Egypt. Ensuring energy supply is of primary importance to the EU, and various pipeline projects have been put forward with the aim of safeguarding the transmission of natural gas:

–          MEG pipeline, transmitting Algerian natural gas to Spain and Portugal via Morocco (already active);

–          Medgaz, a natural gas transmission pipeline under construction between Algeria and Spain;

–          Transmed, an underwater natural gas pipeline connecting Algeria, through Tunisia, with Italy and Slovenia;

–          Green Stream, a pipeline between the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and Italy, operating since October 2004;

–          Galsi pipeline, an underwater natural gas pipeline to connect Algeria with Northern Italy through Sardinia.

Because of its strategic positioning, the Mediterranean region provides opportunities for cooperation with different sub-regions within the Wider Europe. More recently, the Russian Federation suggested the restoration of a permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean, through the Syrian naval bases of Tartus as an alternative to the Ukrainian Sevastopol.

The Balkans and Turkey provide a door for cooperation with Romania and Bulgaria, as well as being the bridge of conjunction with the Black Sea. The Mediterranean provides the principal exit from the Black Sea, which, in turn, provides the Mediterranean with access to the Caspian Sea, the Caucasus and the countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The Mediterranean is, in fact, geographically part of an extended region that includes two other semi-landlocked and landlocked seas: the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea.

Eastern Europe and the south Mediterranean countries are confronted by common challenges. In the long run, population decline and ageing in Eastern and Western Europe face migration pressures in the south Mediterranean. Both regions need to correct the poverty and inequality that have resulted respectively from the transition process and from underdevelopment.

Orphans of the Globalisation? Not anymore!

As Prof. Dr. Jean-Pierre Lehmann wrote[9]: “The Arabs have not been free for centuries and certainly not in the last 50 years. The Arab states may have gained independence, but the Arab people did not gain liberty. When the global financial crisis broke out in 2008, it was recognized that global governance had to extend from the closed establishment club of former major powers, the G8, to embrace new actors, through the creation of the G20. While four new Asian members joined (China, India, Indonesia, and Korea), three Latin American nations (Argentine, Brazil, and Mexico), one African (South Africa), as well as Turkey, from MENA there was only one invitee (Saudi Arabia), and that was for obvious reasons – oil. The leader of the Arab world, Egypt, with its 85 million inhabitants (expected to reach 100 million by 2025) was shunned. Apart from oil, the Arabs were not seen as having anything to contribute to the global discourse or the globalization agenda. There is certainly nothing in their DNA that condemns Arabs to being perpetually “orphans of globalization.” Indeed, the greatest Arab, the prophet Mohammed, was one of the world’s foremost globalizers.

The appeal of democracy is the political consequence of a process of social and cultural changes in Arab societies, which is part of the globalization process. Due to technological developments, cultural changes, economic changes (and the rise of the transnational corporation) and political upheaval, we now live in a world that is experiencing a distinct weakening of the nation-state. This is an era when Google has the power to re-organize global information.

That is why it is surprising how the media missed to assess the role of globalization in the Arab Spring. When looked at through the lens of democracy and nationalism, Westerners have an easy time seeing it as a sort-of American Revolution 2.0 with Jefferson on Twitter. What we see could be an alliance of transnational movements (both the democratic groups and the religious extremists) and micro-national movements (sectarian groups claiming nationhood) fighting against the hyper-nationalism of totalitarian regimes.

On the transnational side, we see the use of social media and the larger democratic movements that helped to spur the revolution. From its inception, the organizers in Egypt (and for that matter Tunisia) used YouTube, Twitter and Facebook, not only to win the hearts of their own people, but the hearts of the people throughout the world. Interestingly, they won the battle culturally and socially before they could gain the political support of NATO or the UN. At the same time, transnational extremists such as Al-Qaeda used the revolution as a chance to recruit for their global cause as well.

Recent revolutions in parts of the Middle East and North Africa have shown that globalization is not only about goods, it’s also about ideas. In a way the Arab Spring is the result of the globalization of ideas because thanks to modern communications people in the Arab world have come to know what is happening in the rest of the world, both politically and economically.

While the Arab region has lagged in the process of globalization in the last two decades, paradoxically it may provide inspiration and guidance to the world in the turning point of a new phase of globalization that the world may be witnessing in the second decade of the 21st century. It seems that there are two routes that lie ahead: One is that of global uprisings driven by youth, leading to constant turbulence; the other is a more inclusive, equitable, ethical, and sustainable globalization. As Kofi Annan warned: “If we cannot make globalization work for all, in the end it will work for none.”

The appeal of democracy is not a consequence of the exportation of the concept of Western democracy, it is the political consequence of a process of social and cultural changes in Arab societies, which is part of the globalization process. It is precisely because the Arab Spring is a succession of indigenous upheavals, centered on the nation and unlinked from Western encroachments, that democracy is seen as both acceptable and desirable.

Islam’s challenge

Most analysts agree that the Arab Spring upheavals constituted a setback for the Islamic state concept, since, in all the countries that have experienced popular uprising, this was not considered an option and, indeed, the radical Islamic groups were not or insignificantly involved in the events.

This was made clear even by some leaders of Islamic groups, such as Rachid al-Ghannouchi, leader of Tunisian movement Hizb al-Nahda, who declared that an Islamic state was not an option for his country. Also, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood reacted negatively to Ayatollah Khamenei’s claim crediting Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution for the recent uprisings in the Middle Eastern region. The Muslim Brotherhood retaliated by saying that the Egyptian revolution was not an Islamic Revolution. A Gallup poll conducted following the fall from power of Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, showed that less than one per cent of Egyptians favored an Iranian-style Islamic state. In addition, establishing an Islamic state no longer holds pride of place on Hezbollah’s agenda.

This diminished ideal of an Islamic state is not the child of recent events in the region. Recent events have merely provided an appropriate milieu in which this shift has been able to flourish. Much earlier than the recent uprisings, this shift was described by Professor Asef Bayat as a post-Islamist era.

The idea of an Islamic state is quite young in the Muslim world. There is no record of the existence of an Islamic state during the fourteen centuries of Islamic history. Pakistan was the first country in the contemporary world to be officially named an ‘Islamic Republic’, but in spite of the efforts, the state’s official policy never manifested characteristics of an Islamic state.

The most extremist Islamic state was the Islamic state of Afghanistan which survived for only five years. The Taliban’s practice of Shari’a law led to horrifying stories and images that came to signify Afghanistan’s Islamic state, and that played a significant role in terrifying other parts of the Muslim world, having the effect of dissuading them from accepting the idea.

After Pakistan (1956) and Mauritania (1958), Iran was the third state to be officially called an ‘Islamic Republic’ in the modern age. Iran’s experience has been ground-breaking not only because of its commitment to practicing Shari’a law, but also in light of the Ulama’s direct political leadership. It fuelled other Islamic movements in the closing decades of the 20th century. “Islam is the solution” (al-Islam huwa al-hal) became the main slogan of most of the Islamic movements that have striven to find solutions to the myriad problems facing Muslims in the modern world. However, Iran’s clerical establishment has failed to achieve constructive economic and political policies and the Islamic state of Iran is not quite stable politically (although the ruling clergy managed to quell the riots in 2009, the situation remains fragile and an unexpected event could spark another political crisis).

However, in the wake of revolution, Islamist movements have been gaining ground and Islamic political parties may well emerge, after genuine elections, as the biggest in rejuvenated Tunisian and Egyptian parliaments. This makes many secular liberals across the Arab world nervous lest the Islamists hijack the revolutions, turning them into vehicles for repressive and intolerant regimes.

To give Islamists their head is indeed a risk. The Salafists, who preach a version of Islam that harks back to the puritanical zealotry of the early days, assaulted the liberal protesters in Egypt, and, in Tunis, smashed a cinema that was showing a film falsely said to defame Islam. Secular democrats fear that after the dictatorial regimes are toppled they will be replaced by some form of radical Islamists. This risk is, however, not to be exaggerated, since the term Islamist covers a wide spectrum. The Salafists are a small minority. The new Islamist mainstream, which includes Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Tunisia’s Nahda party, has evolved over the years, and now realizes that the new generation of young Arabs would not accept the Islamist camp. These more pragmatic sorts argue that they deserve the chance to prove that they are sincere in espousing pluralistic politics. Encouraging secular parties to gang up against them or having them banned altogether is more likely to push Islamists underground, to unite factions that would otherwise work against each other and even to foment violence.

Many skeptical secular Arabs will say that they have heard such assurances before, and that even if the Islamists agree at first to share a coalition government, they will gradually accrue all of it, establishing the Iranian-style supremacy of Islam in government. And, if people turn against them at the polls, they will never let go. They sustain that the Islamists, however mild they sound, are bent on taking over in the long run, would abandon democracy once they got into power and would use every sort of chicanery and violence to achieve their goal.

According to most of the analysts, when assessing the Islamist’s chances and risk, several main features have to be taken into account:

1)    The Arab Spring revolutions have owed virtually nothing to political Islam and everything to the simple secular democratic demand of frustrated peoples that they be free to choose their own leaders.

2)    The extreme wing of political Islam, as represented by al-Qaeda, has completely failed to benefit, except perhaps in Yemen.

3)    However small Islam’s role in the revolutions, the political forces under its banner, especially the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the like-minded Nahda in Tunisia, are now set to emerge as the biggest parties after general elections, even if the Islamists will not on their own win majorities in the new parliaments.

4)    The emerging mainstream Islamist groups all say they will seek to govern in coalitions with secular and other parties during the fragile transition from dictatorship to democracy.

The Islamists are playing a cautious, long-term game. The economies of all the Arab countries are in difficulty and all elected governments will have to take unpopular decisions. The Islamists do not want to take power, alone; better to share the blame. A significant example is the Egyptian Brothers’ recent alliance with the army, which oppressed them for so long. According to a leader of the Egyptian liberal Wafd party, the Brotherhood “is an 80-year project,” and “in the long run they want an Islamic state, a caliphate.”

According to the French Islam specialist Olivier Roy[10], all these changes are bound to foster a “party of order” that emerges in these transforming societies.  “The army will be in this group, some Islamists such as Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood too, and of course business circles.”

As for Islam, Roy argued that it will become an essential issue. “They can’t install sharia,” Roy said. “So I think the conservative Islamists and Salafis will concentrate on certain themes like blasphemy. This is political. Blasphemy indicates the limits that cannot be passed, that even parliament or elections cannot touch… we’ll have a debate dominated by very concrete but very symbolic issues, including conversion and apostasy.”

Arab Spring’s outcome – still uncertain

Despite the inevitable comedown, these changes are probably the most significant development in the Arab world in nearly a century, though the outcome remains uncertain – and the timeline will extend for many years.

An analysis issued in mid-2011[11] – some four months following the Jasmine Revolution – mentioned six possible scenarios after the Arab Spring: the Poland scenario, the Turkey scenario, the Iran scenario, the Philippines scenario, the Chile scenario, and the Yugoslavia scenario.

–          Poland: The eruption of the Jasmine Revolution was described as the Arab region’s “Gdansk moment”. The scenario plays out whereby the dictatorship is overthrown and the nation, through twists and turns, eventually becomes a quite prosperous society with a reasonably robust democracy.

–          Turkey: Turkey has emerged as a successful and dynamic actor in the last decade of the global era; it has undergone profound transformation, and through the Justice and Democracy Party (AKP) has demonstrated the possibility of blending modern democracy with Islam.

–          Iran: This is the scenario where the Islamic fundamentalists take over. It is most often touted by the established Arab regimes and harbored by Western political leaders. This was the main reason why some of them and only reluctantly backed the revolutions

–          The Philippines: There are revolutions that give rise to great expectations but turn into human catastrophes. In the case of the Philippines, the dictator Ferdinand Marcos was overthrown in 1986 by a revolution known as “People’s Power.” 25 years later, the country is just as economically and socially stagnant and just as corrupt as the country was under Marcos.

–          Chile: The attempt by democratically elected Salvador Allende to transform Chilean society was brutally repressed by General Augusto Pinochet, which led to 16 years (1974–1990) of brutal military dictatorship. In the face of probable mayhem for some time and social unrest due to unmet expectations, the army may be tempted, as it often is, to put things in order.

–          Yugoslavia: The country imploded as its distinct ethnic and religious components sought in some cases hegemony, in others independence. Yugoslavia no longer exists, the breakup has been terribly painful and costly in human terms, and it may not be over yet. The Yugoslav scenario may apply to some of the more ethnically diverse Arab states, as is the case in Iraq and possibly Syria.

Dealing with Islam is perhaps the greatest challenge facing Europe. If the Continent manages to preserve its own values without discriminating against Muslims, then a consensus on values can be achieved and European Muslims could become a model for the Islamic world. If it fails, however, Europe could betray its own values, the populists could win and their simple solutions would fan the flames of the clash of cultures.

According to the law of history, educational progress and a decline in the birth rate are indicators of growing rationalization and secularization and from this point of view Islamism is a temporary defensive reaction to the shock of modernization and not the vanishing point of history. The tracks along which the world’s various cultures and religions move are converging toward an encounter rather than the battle that Samuel Huntington believed would take shape.

Increased external support is essential. A Mediterranean Economic Area, drawing on earlier lessons from Europe, might complement current bilateral and regional agreements and new ideas.

[1] Pseudonym (meaning “daughter of the Nile”) of British writer and political commentator Gisèle Littman, née Orebi, born in Cairo, Egypt from a middle class Jewish family that was forced to leave Egypt in 1957 after the Israeli attack on Egypt.

[2] Nonresident Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy, Center on the United States and Europe Director, Turkey Project, Center on the United States and Europe. Ömer Taşpınar is an expert on Turkey, the European Union, Muslims in Europe, political Islam, the Middle East and Kurdish nationalism. He is a professor at the National War College and an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

[3] Niall Ferguson: The Way We Live Now

[4] Christopher Caldwell, American author and journalist: Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam and the West

[5] The Arab Democracy Paradox – Mwangi S. Kimenyi, Director, Africa Growth Initiative, see

[6] Emmanuel Todd: A Look at the Root Causes of the Arab Revolution,

[7] Asef Bayat , of Iranian origin, is Professor of Sociology and Middle Eastern studies at University of Illinois, author of several books and articles regarding the Islamic  societies

[8] Katia Adamo and Paolo Garonna: The Mediterranean, a region at the crossroads of three continents, see

[9] Jean-Pierre Lehmann: Will the Arab spring free the orphans of globalization?, Jean-Pierre Lehmann is Professor of International Political Economy, IMD, Lausanne, and Founding Director of The Evian Group.

[10] During a conference in Venice entitled “Medio Oriente verso dove?” (Where is the Middle East heading?), organized on 26.06.2011 by the Oasis Foundation, see

[11] Jean-Pierre Lehmann, op. cit.

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