The EU: a criticized global actor in the Middle East

Social scientists being familiar with the Middle East and IR tend to agree with recipients’ views quoted in the last post. Most researchers are equally critical towards the EU (West in general) probably because it is very easy to recognize the gaps between rhetoric and practice. Rosemary Hollis argues that the ‘Arab revolts has actually demonstrated the failure of EU policies’ the extent to which, ‘EU has favoured regimes and practices that ultimately proved intolerable to a broad stratum of Arab society’ (Hollis 2012: 81). Evaluating US and EU ‘democracy promotion’ in the Middle East Rex Brynen and his co-authors agree that ‘by polishing some of the “rough edges” of authoritarism, they might have even contributed to its persistence (Brynen et al 2012: 274). Riccardo Alcaro writes in the Introduction of Rethinking Western Policies in Light of the Arab Spring that ‘United States and Europe have for decades shown acquiescence towards, and often actively supported, Arab authoritarian regimes in return for Western-friendly policies.’ In his evaluation Western response to the Arab Spring would ‘make a perfect case study for those interested in the conflict between perceived interests and values’ (Alcaro 2012: 13). Indeed, authoritarian regimes have likely been supported – irrespective of the events taking place under the umbrella of the ‘Arab Spring’ – to serve security interests: they were seen as guarantees of stability, but to some extent, even potential facilitators of peaceful transition to democracy. In Ahmed Driss’ view ‘the European Union favoured stability … over the requirements of democratization and (uncertain) political changes’ before the Arab Spring (Driss 2012: 100). However, even the ‘new’  EU ‘approach’ (see an earlier post on its main elements) reminds to an old wine in new bottle as formulated by Natalie Tocci and Silvia Colombo (Colombo and Tocci 2012: 96). To sum up these interpretations, the West in general and the EU in particular seems to be taken hostage by itself, at least the extent to which it is unable to bridge the gap between its extraterritorial (and domestic?) interests and internal (or universal?) values.

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