One of the defining features, looking back, of the revolution in the Middle East – or will we call it the Southern Mediterranean? – will be just how ugly the relationship between EU and other Western governments and the dictators was. This post from the UK TUC’s policy blog sums it up nicely:
It heralds the collapse of the old EU strategy for the EuroMed region, characterised at the meeting as a mixture of privatisation and migration, or supporting neoliberal economic reforms in â€˜stableâ€™, autocratic regimes.
Privatisation and migration – that cuts both ways, of course. The South Mediterranean elites were very well served by this strategy, while an enormous class of underemployed youth built up. On one hand, emigration was a safety valve, reducing the amount of actual violence and repression they needed to use. In that sense, it was a policy that many Mediterranean nations would recognise only too well, especially Italy. But it wasn’t as if the North Mediterranean governments were especially pleased about absorbing the emigrants. While the economic relationship was built on privatisation and migration, the power-political relationship was built on migration and terrorism.
Terrorism is the obvious one – the Southern Med’s security agencies successfully marketed themselves as defenders against an otherwise inevitable take-over by Al-Qa’ida and therefore natural allies for European partner agencies keen to demonstrate their usefulness and alliance commitment to the United States. Migration is less so, but it was another way in which police forces on each side of the Mediterranean cooperated – although it was recognised that people would migrate, the EU was not keen on them coming here, and projects like FRONTEX and NATO’s Operation Atalanta (which straddles both counter-terrorism and migration) put a very significant emphasis on building up military-to-military and police-to-police links.
FBI files are turning up amidst the piles of Viagra, condoms, and firearms in Egypt’s ransacked spook centres. The only conclusion is “Fasten your seat belts – it’s going to be a bumpy night”, as the inevitable, awful revelations start to pour in.
We’ve already had a few, concerning not so much the structure of cross-Mediterranean relations as the personalities. But the personalities and the gossip are an index of the underlying realities. When MichÃ©le Alliot-Marie, successively France’s defence, interior, and foreign minister, spends her holidays with Ben Ali’s crown prince, this should tell us something about the politics of it, and why she made her astonishing offer to help out with those irresponsible rabble outside the Tunisian interior ministry. Tony Blair was perhaps the ultimate exponent of this, supping regularly with both Hosni Mubarak and his North Mediterranean mirror image, Silvio Berlusconi, and encouraging the London School of Economics to do its very best for Gaddafi’s son.
Clearly, it wasn’t just a question of brutal realpolitik, although it was all that. Is it telling that the countries whose governments were most friendly with the South Mediterranean dictators were also the ones with the biggest housing bubbles and – with the exception of the French – the biggest commitment to Iraq?
Now, of course, it’s all become very different.