The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Posts tagged eu
On migration in the Mediterranean

There has been an odd meme spreading around since the tragic deaths of hundreds of migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean over the last week. The idea, widely spread by the press and politicians, is that Libya is the source of all these problems. For example, in Politico:

One EU migration official spelled out just what would be needed to stop the flood of people seeking refuge in Europe.

“You have to stabilize the situation in the countries of origin,” she said. That means figuring out a way to return order to Libya, which has descended into civil war and chaos following the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship in 2011. That was the result of a NATO bombing campaign led by EU countries.

Libya is not the country of origin or the source of the migration, for the most part. It is a largely a transit country, and if you look at the country of origin of migrants you will see that many of them are not just economic migrants. Many, perhaps most, appear to be fleeing conflict zones or repressive regimes – Syria, Gaza, Somalia, Nigeria, Eritrea (where many migrants say they are escaping military service). So surely EU officials should be thinking about addressing the conflicts themselves, or at least the humanitarian crisis they engender? This seems to be particularly the case in Syria, since the humanitarian response (with chronic recurrent shortfalls in funding for refugee camps) has been largely inadequate.

The stats (for Italy) seem to bear this out:


The focus on Libya, while certainly warranted, gives the impression that if Libya had a strong government and was not in a state of complete chaos, the situation would be much better. Perhaps in terms of people trying to cross Europe. But the migrants would still be around, trying to come in through other routes or reaching other countries.

Below are some links collected on this issue.

  • Good piece in the Guardian, as well as this moving video from Syrians who made the trip across the sea:
  • Also in the Guardian, our friend Patrick Kingsley has an interesting report on smugglers in Zwara, in northwestern Libya, where many boats depart from. But the smugglers’ claim that if Berbers in the area had received better treatment they would not be smuggling is utter BS. And Europe editor Ian Traynor argues there is little the EU can actually do about it - it’s up to member states, not Brussels. Hakim Bello, a Nigerian who made the crossing, tells his story.
  • Some interesting report on what the EU is planning to do about the crisis on the new Politico Europe site, here and here. There will be a EU Council meeting on this Thursday ahead of a new migration policy expected to be adopted in May. And here is the EU’s 10-point plan to deal with the migrant crisis.
  • Good maps and infographics in the NYT.
  • Australian PM Tony Abbott advises the EU to turn back boats and not accept any migrants.
  • In the New Yorker, Mattathias Schwartz argues that EU restrictions on immigration are a bit like prohibition: “Like drug prohibition, it is a supply-side solution, and it is a failure.”
  • Bloomberg’s Leonid Bershidsky says a comprehensive resettlement program from conflict zones is needed, not just involving Europe.
  • Mixed Migration: Libya At The Crossroads - an extensive report by Altai.
April 6 tells EU to cancel election observer mission

From a letter written on behalf of April 6 to the European Union:

On 10 February 2014, the Foreign Affairs Council Meeting concluded in point 8: "The EU also reiterates its readiness to observe the upcoming elections, if conditions are met, and calls on the Egyptian interim authorities to ensure an environment conducive to inclusive, transparent and credible elections, including a level playing field for the election campaigns. In view of the recent developments, the Council recalls that no political groups should be excluded or banned as long as they renounce violence and respect democratic principles".


In times in which more than twenty thousand prisoners are detained since the military intervention/coup on 3rd July, political movements, Islamist and Secular, are being banned, extreme nationalistic propaganda are widely diffused through the State apparatus, it is quite evident that the "conditions are hardly met". It is certain that Mr. Sisi will win the show, whether in presence or absence of the EU elections observation mission. Suspending the mission, however, would send a clear message to Mr. Sisi as well as to the European and Egyptian public opinions that the EU can hardly accept and even participate in legitimizing the current practices in Egypt.

More on this at Middle East Eye.

The EU and its aid to Egypt

#SOSEgypt - Save our Spring

This is a petition urging the EU to show greater scrutiny in dishing out pledged aid to Egypt:

On the 15th of November, only a week before President Mursi issued a dictatorial decree granting him immunity from law, the EU pledged €5 billion financial support to Egypt. This is European taxpayer’s money.

President Morsi is following the same policies of Mubarak in repressing his opponents, in just the first 100 days of his presidency; Egyptian police were behind at least 88 cases of torture, seven cases of sexual assault and the deaths of 34 people. Outspoken media personalities are being intimidated protesters violently attacked and killed, and religious freedoms constrained . In the absence of constitutional safeguards, violations of basic human rights and civil liberties may well get worse. Europe can't turn a blind eye to the abuses that the Egyptian government is responsible for.

Despite requests from European members of Parliament and GOs the EU - to date- has not made clear how it will condition its support to the Egyptian government on the respect of internationally agreed human rights and liberties. The EU must monitor laws in the making, and condition development aid to the Egyptian government on the respect of rights and liberties, such as social justice, rule of law, gender equality, labour rights, as well as freedom of expression, freedom of religion and freedom of association.

Of the EU aid package most if handled by the EIB and EBRD in terms of project finance and specifically earmarked loans. But at least €700m of the remainder is EU-administered aid that is directly contigent on two broad sets of conditionalities:

1. Economic reform measures, broadly defined as those agreed to under the forthcoming IMF agreement;

2. "Good governance" — an ill-defined term.

The EU missed the ball completely in December when it chose, largely because of lack of interest of member states and the personal preference of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, not to say much about Morsi's legal coup and the rush over the constitution. Yet EU officials had previously pledged to abandon the old Mubarak-era approach and to be vigilant towards the new Morsi administration. It's what they said, yet they've repeatedly failed to even speak out beyond meaningless bromides such as urging "an inclusive constitution" — meaningless because there was no attempt to actually do that, or even buy time for negotiations by delaying the referendum. And then there are concerns over future human rights issues where the recently adopted constitution constrains them and ongoing ones regarding police violence, Islamist groups (including the MB) use of violence against protestors, concerns over media freedoms, etc. We've had more silence since then.

Once the IMF deal is approved (and perhaps before it) the EU will be under great internal pressure to deliver this aid because of Egypt's dire economic predicament. While it continue to flout its own promises of conditionality?

Europe, still rudderless in the Arab world

The FT has an interesting piece today about the (still distant) possibility that the Schengen system, which allows for free passage throughout 25 of the EU's 27 member-states, might be dismantled. There's been rising concern about immigration in many European states for several years, but it partly has to do with the Arab spring. Specifically, with the drastic increase of Tunisian illegal migrants making to Lampedusa island, just off Tunisia but belong to Italy, in recent months. 

The EU tried to do away with such obstacles in its 1995 Schengen agreement for visa-free travel, which the bloc hails as one of its proudest achievements. Yet populist concerns about immigration, heightened by an economic crisis and the upheaval in north Africa, have given rise to new demands to strengthen internal and external borders across Europe.

Tensions have been highest in the EU’s Mediterranean member states, particularly France and Italy, to which most of an estimated 30,000 north African migrants have fled since January. Both countries have demanded the right to introduce temporary internal border controls. 

 Denmark also reinstated guards and spot checks this week along its borders. Although Denmark is far from north Africa, its populist Danish People’s party pressed for the border crackdown as part of wider negotiations with the coalition government on economic reforms.

The French and Italians have been fighting over this recently, as the FT reported last month, as they face pressure from the far-right (and pay the price of their own right-wing leaders — Berlusconi and Sarkozy — making anti-immigration rhetoric part and parcel of their political discourse.)

It's hardly surprising to see the French and Italians — among the most ruthlessly self-serving Western countries when it comes to foreign policy (they loved Qadhafi when he was powerful, and are now busy making deals with the rebels since he appeared weak) — resort to this talk. But that it strikes a deeper chord in the EU at large is telling. The EU has been grasping with positive symbolic responses to the Arab spring. Brussels has circulated a measly new plan for supporting civil society (some €10 million has been earmarked, a pitiful sum) in response, full of the usual technocratic language. But there has been no coherent political or diplomatic response, never mind a reassessment of the last decade of policy towards the likes of Ben Ali and Mubarak. This is despite a wide range of policy literature criticizing these policies from places like FRIDE or suggestions from recent reports like this one on EU policy towards Egypt.

Here's another expert who has scathing words:

Today, EU governments see the challenge primarily as one of demography. European governments may talk about democracy and practically every European leader has enjoyed a walk through the banner-clad Tahrir Square. But when they return home, shake the sand off their trousers and start thinking of their voters, their thoughts quickly turn to managing the flow of illegal immigrants who dream of a better life in Europe.

This is particularly true of the governments of France, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Malta, Cyprus and Spain. These "Club Med" states could, if they took advantage of their connections and understanding, be the driving force behind a constructive European policy towards the new north Africa. But in reality they have been driven by a fear of migrants and being outflanked politically on the right by their opponents (in France) or their partners (Italy). Back in the early 1990s, when the Balkans was ablaze, these countries were willing to take thousands of refugees. Today, France and Italy are locked in an argument about a much smaller numbers of Tunisians and threaten to tear down the Schengen agreement, which created Europe as a borderless area, in the process. This is against a backdrop of declining numbers of asylum applications across Europe over the past decade – in particular, UNHCR reports a drop of 33% in applications in southern EU member states between 2009 and 2010.

The concerns about migration that come with Club Med's historical connections and geographical proximity to north Africa have prevented EU policy from advancing. There has, in fact, been little substantive debate within these nations about their policies; Italy's first concern has been the thousands of immigrants arriving on Lampedusa while Spain's concerns include managing an already large Moroccan diaspora. The rest is rhetoric.

And in the meantime, from Brussels and most European capitals we mostly hear technocratic mumbo-jumbo. Yes, it's true the EU gives a lot of money to Arab countries like Morocco or Egypt. But the money is often wasted because there is no political discourse that accompanies it (unless it's from a few countries like Sweden, which however has little influence in the Middle East). It's not just a matter of conditionalities or policy orientation. The problem is bigger: it's a lack of moral imagination, an incapacity to think of the teeming hordes (as the politicians speak of them) beyond the Mediterranean as anything else than a problem.

A few links on the EU and Israel/Palestine

Some interesting recent developments in the Israel/Palestine issue, notably in terms of EU-Israel relations. The letter cited at the end from European heavyweights who were formerly deeply involved in EU policymaking is quite important.

EU stops short of outright recognition of Palestinian state - but final statement is weak and limp, as usual (I guess the usual suspects — UK, Netherlands, France, Germany and some of the newer Eastern states — provided protection for Israel.)

Hamas reiterates 'all of Palestine' claim - Mixed messages from Hamas, as always.

US envoy returns to grasp nettle of Mideast peace - Mitchell resurfaces.

Palestinians express doubts over 2-state future - No kidding.

Letter from European Former Leaders Group (EFLG) [PDF]

Update: I should have also mentioned this great letter from The Elders.

Excerpt from the above letter:

It is now one year on and we appear to be no closer to a resolution of this conflict. To the contrary, developments on the ground, primarily Israel’s continuation of settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT) including in East Jerusalem, pose an existential threat to the prospects of establishing a sovereign, contiguous and viable Palestinian state also embracing Gaza, and therefore pose a commensurate threat to a two-state solution to the conflict.

Given this situation and the urgent need for action, we consider it a matter of fundamental credibility that the Council revisit the principles and requirements it enunciated in December 2009 and establish the next steps forward at its meeting scheduled for 13 December 2010. In addition to reconfirming the framework and principles it collectively adopted in December 2009, we consider it vital that the Council should also identify concrete measures to operationalize its agreed policy and thence move to implementation of the agreed objectives. Europe cannot afford that the application of these policy principles be neglected and delayed yet again. Time to secure a sustainable peace is fast running out.

[. . .]

During the past twelve months, the EU has continued to develop its bilateral relations with Israel within the framework of the ENP, with additional support provided in other fora, such as Israel’s accession to the OECD. Yet Israel has continued with settlement construction in the OPT, including East Jerusalem, and refused to negotiate seriously on terminating occupation and the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state.

The EU has always maintained that settlements are illegal, but has not attached any consequences for continued and systematic Israeli settlement expansion in the OPT, including East Jerusalem.

We therefore strongly believe that the EU must make absolutely clear that enhancement or upgrading of the EU-Israel Association Agreement and other bilateral agreements and programs will not occur unless settlements are frozen.

We furthermore recommend in the strongest possible terms that the EU examine the legal implications for the EU of the continued application of bilateral agreements by Israel to Israelis and Israeli entities in the OPT, i.e. to areas outside the internationally recognized boundaries of the State of Israel. We consider it necessary that the EU add safeguard clauses to these agreements which rule out their application to Occupied Territories, to ensure that entities prohibited by international law and considered unlawful by EU policy, such as settlements, are excluded from European privileges and will not be promoted and legitimized by their provision. We consider it necessary that the EU bring an end to the import of settlement products which are, in contradiction with EU labeling regulations, marketed as originating in Israel. We consider it simply inexplicable that such products still enjoy benefits under preferential trade agreements between the EU and Israel.

Hopefully next year will see the development of a stronger BDS movement in Europe after 2009's progress, and EU leaders bringing an end to Israel's Advanced Status negotiations with the EU, which are an outrage.

New Blog: Steven Cook at CFR

Veteran Egypt (and Turkey and Algeria) watcher Steven Cook, an expert on things military and much else, has a new blog at the Council of Foreign Relations website. Steven, who wrote a masterful comparison of the military regimes in those three countries in Ruling But Not Governing, is currently working on a book on Egypt-US relations since the 1950s, which should come out next year.

In his latest post, written from Ankara, he writes about whether Turkey needs the carrot of EU membership to carry out democratic change anymore. It's something I've been thinking about a lot right now, having come to see Turkey as a democracy (despite remaining problems about its treatment of minorities and some laws left over from the military dictatorship era). And in fact, the recent constitutional changes were carried out at a time when the EU connection is getting weaker.

When I think about EU policy towards the Arab world, I see a mixed bag: on the one hand, there are EU policies that incentivize reform and change towards democracy. On the other, I see many policies that would like to focus on minimal reforms but not real appetite for full-blown democracy promotion, conditionality, etc. The lack of serious implementation of human rights provisions in EU Association Agreements comes to mind, for instance. At the end of the day, the EU is an unreliable partner for democratic change, because its members (esp. France, Italy and Spain) have too much incentive to maintain the status-quo. They, and the US, will continue to lean towards support the dictatorships until a credible, broad-based opposition movement begins to pose a serious challenge. The problem now is that the regimes, and their foreign partners, maintain a situation where it is extremely difficult for such opposition movements to emerge. I very much agree with the work of Richard Youngs at FRIDE on these issues.

Anyway, here's what Steve had to say about Turkey:

It’s long been an accepted truth in the Turkey-watching community that the EU was an anchor of Turkish political reform. The structure of Turkish politics was such that Ankara needed the incentive of EU membership to drive democratic change. Many Turks believe this as well, but after 58% of voters said “Evet” (Yes) to a series of constitutional amendments in a September 12th referendum, some commentary—by no means a consensus—began popping up here arguing that Turkey no longer needs the EU to drive its political change. The amendments, the most important of which has to do with the selection of judges to Turkey’s highest judicial bodies, raised legitimate concerns about the government’s ability to pack the courts. Yet, the perception among many is that with the changes to the constitution, the Justice and Development Party government took an important step toward a more open and democratic government that (unlike an array of reforms undertaken in 2003 and 2004) were not specifically in response to Europe’s membership criteria.

Add to Turkey’s apparent ability to undertake change on its own; falling support for EU membership—between 45-50%, which is down 30 points from 2004; a younger generation of Turks who have no vested interest in joining Europe; and imploding EU economies, in contrast to Turkey’s solid growth, it may be time to rethink Ankara’s relationship with Brussels. I am not suggesting that Turkey cut its ties to the West. Europe remains Turkey’s most important trading partner and source of foreign direct investment. Turkey could, after all, continue to harmonize its political and economic systems with the EU, but not take the ultimate step toward membership. That’s what Norway did, and it was enormously beneficial.

And get his book!

Links for Dec.08.09 to Dec.09.09

Les voix de la nation : chanson, arabité et caméléonisme linguistique | Culture et politique arabes | Very interesting post on Arab singers adopting accents and styles of different countries -- has great clip of Abdel Halim Hafez trying out a traditional Kuwaiti song.

✩ Comment l’Algérie a exporté sa « sale guerre » au Mali : Algérie-Maroc | How Algeria exported its dirty war to Mali: AQIM conspiracies.

Fatwa Shopping « London Review Blog | On Nakheel and Islamic finance.

The women who guard other women in conservative Egypt | On female bodyguards.

Yemen’s afternoon high - Le Monde diplomatique | On the drug Qat.

US Congress frets over anti-Americanism on TV in Mideast | The leading inciter of anti-Americanism in the ME is Congress itself, when it keeps voting for wars for Israel.

Baladna English | New newspaper launched in Syria, but nothing on its site yet.

EU Action Plan on combating terrorism | Document on EU CT strategy.

What the US Elite Really Thinks About Israel « P U L S E | Most Council of Foreign Relations members think US favors Israel too much - v. interesting analysis of foreign policy expert poll by Jeffrey Blankfort.

‘The Battle for Israel’s Soul’ – Channel 4 on Jewish fundamentalism « P U L S E | British documentary on Jewish fundamentalism.

BBC News - Dubai crisis sparks job fears for migrant workers | On South Asians in Dubai. / Comment / Opinion - Israel must unpick its ethnic myth | Tony Judt.

The Interview Ha’aretz Doesn’t Want You To See « P U L S E | Interview Ali Abunimah not published by Haaretz.

Attention Christmas Shoppers: Top Ten Brands to Boycott | Sabbah Report | Brands to boycott at Christmas. / Middle East / Politics & Society - Egypt’s media warn ElBaradei off politics | On the campaign against ElBaradei.

✩ Flourishing Palestinian sex trade exposed in new report - Haaretz | Amira Hass: "Young Palestinian women are being forced to into prostitution in brothels, escort services, and private apartments in Ramallah and Jerusalem..."

The EU and Jerusalem
For the last few days the EU has been battling over a Swedish proposal (Sweden currently holds the EU presidency) to make it official EU position that Jerusalem should be a shared capital of the two states. Now to most reasonable people this makes sense: after all the international community is backing a two-state solution, the city is divided and that division is recognized by international law, and it's clear that the symbolism of Jerusalem being the capital of both Israel and Palestine is important to the parties. Except of course the Israelis want it all to themselves, and have plenty of allies to counter this move.

Due to various pressures (see below) that laudable proposal has now been reworded:

The European Union backed away yesterday from demanding that East Jerusalem be the capital of a future Palestinian state after a proposal from the Swedish presidency ran into Israeli objections.

EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, called instead for negotiations to settle Jerusalem's status and said they envisaged the city as the capital of two countries: Israel and any future Palestinian state.

The EU position was a compromise between Sweden and several other countries that wanted the 27nation bloc to make a firm commitment to the Palestinians on East Jerusalem, and other countries, such as the Czech Republic, Ger-many and Italy, that preferred a less overtly antiIsraeli stance.

Israel criticised the statement, saying it would "not contribute to the renewal of negotiations" and failed to acknowledge the Palestinian side was the "primary obstacle" to a peace deal.

Al Jazeera's Inside Story has a show on the EU and the Jerusalem question on Sunday:

(Ahmad Moor had thoughts on that exchange at Mondoweiss.)

How was it that the EU decided to water down a clear commitment to East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital?

Alain Gresh writes that Paris is enabling Israeli policies, with Sarkozy lobbying on behalf of Netanyahu to water down the Swedish proposals. Their ground is that there should be recognition of Bibi's "positive" move on partial freeze of settlements, which is ridiculous — anything less than a total freeze is illegal and against the chief diplomatic initiative launched by Obama several months ago). (The Jerusalem Post also covered the French move.)

The United States also came out on this issue as typically mendacious:

Shortly after European Union Ministers announced their support for the division of Jerusalem between Israel and a future Palestinian state on Tuesday, the U.S. State Department issued a statement saying that the fate of Jerusalem should only be determined by Israel and the Palestinians in talks.

"Our position on Jerusalem is clear. United States policy remains unaffected and unchanged: As has been stated by every previous administration which addressed this issue, the status of Jerusalem, and all other permanent status issues, must be resolved by the parties through negotiations," the statement read.

Of course, the Swedish position was exactly what the PA wants to see, so it's not like the EU would be imposing a standard that both parties reject as implied. For the record here was the divide among some of the major EU states on original Swedish proposal:

For: Sweden, Britain, Ireland, Belgium.
Against: Italy, France, Holland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Romania, Poland.
EU must step up Mideast engagement: Portugal - Yahoo! News
EU must step up Mideast engagement: Portugal - Yahoo! News
This comes as the EU is involved in a protracted battle between member states over whether to suspend the EU-Israel upgrade process. Portugal sides with the states that want, very rightly, to impose conditionalities on Israel for the Gaza war and its continuing blockade. Against are most of the East Europeans, Italy, UK, Denmark ans Germany. Bloody useless EU and its even more useless foreign commissioner...

Links January 15th and January 19th

Automatically posted links for January 15th through January 19th: