Democracy and cooperation. Arab opinions II.

‘All that happened thanks to financial and other assistance from Arab regimes loyal to the US, in the hope that this Islamic input would keep Arab society free of socialist ideas and progressive projects that called for emancipation in all spheres, beginning with liberation from Western influence and extending to the unleashing of the creative energies in society’ argues Sahar Khalifeh, a Palestinian, Arab writer. The word ‘all’ refers not only to the return of mandatory veiling for women in the Islamic world but, in more general terms, it also applies to rise of the politically motivated Islamic organizations being interested in exerting ideological influence over the others. As long as the West is seen to be responsible for the gradual emerging of political Islamism (in particular Salafism) since the early 1970s and is held responsible for supporting oppressive and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa (anywhere within its sphere of interest) simultaneously, it seems to be uneasy for cooperating with it. Any potential cooperation is difficult, even if ‘the socialists, the liberals and the pro-feminists are today closer to this West in [their] thinking and in [their] democratic and scholarly attitudes – [they are closer to the] West that plotted against the peoples of the Third World and their interests’ (Khalifeh 2011).

The question on the necessity of cooperation with the West is less and less philosophical due to the fact that the West – the EU in particular – has been interested in revising former foreign and aid policies and is overly in favour of supporting transition to democracy, at least in those sixteen countries lying in its close neighbourhood. Official documents describing the EU’s new approaches since the ‘Arab Spring’ take some sort of implicit responsibility for the mistakes committed in the past – ‘Recent events and the results of the review have shown that the EU support to political reforms in the neighbouring countries has met with limited results’ (COM 2011b: 1) – whereas the EU explicitly calls for cooperation in forms of mutual accountability, shared commitment and compliance with conditions set in order to promote democracy, human rights and good governance in its neighbourhood. Moderate people being interested in politics living in the MENA as well as in the wider EU neighbourhood have chance to choose between (i) siding with their own fellows, community, religious and political leadership by likely betraying democratic values, or (ii) cooperating with the West, EU included, in promoting democracy and human rights – by risking their own lives and challenging (questioning) the legitimacy of their own community. The choice is much less about democracy and co: it is purely about opting for the self (over the other) or for the other (over the self), which will explain (the lack of) success in the longer run.

COM (2011a) A Partnership for Democracy and Shared Responsibility with the Southern Mediterranean. Joint Communication to the European Council, the European Parliament, the Council, The European  Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. March 8, 2011, Brussels: European Commission

COM (2011b) A new response to a changing Neighbourhood. Joint Communication to the Parliament, the Council, The European  Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions. May 25, 2011, Brussels: European Commission

Khalifeh, Sahar (2011): Who is Hidden Beneath the Burqa? An Appeal to the West., Goethe Institute.


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