The Guest Blog

Guest post by Dario GROPPI

While Time Magazine publishes The Protester as the man of the year. Eyes on Europe, a magazine dealing with actual and future perspectives of European Union (EU), edited by students, organised a conference on What does European Union learn from the Arab Spring. Hosted by the Free University of Brussels, on 16 December, the conference welcomed Elyès Ghanmi, civil servant of the European Parliament dealing with Maghreb countries, Ines Kalaï, student whose final thesis was about the Tunisian revolution, Vincent Legrand, professor of political sciences at the Catholic University of Louvain and Irnerio Seminatore, president of the European Institute of International Relations (IERI). The question was: The Arab Spring: an opportunity for the European Union? while Didier Leroy, researcher at the Royal Military School specialised in Arabic questions, moderated the debate.

The regimes in Arab countries concerned by revolutions had established dictatorships. Where elections were won by the leader by almost 100% of the votes. Absence of press freedom and lack of women rights contributed to the popular insurrection.

“Bread – freedom – dignity”

Recent revolutions, in Tunisia, Egypt or Libya, have started a revolutionary process. The movement is a consequence of problems of housing, hunger, lack of future for the youths. Professor Legrand points out a posterior “tacit contract” between the population and the authoritarian regimes, in order to allow the latter to develop the country. Therefore, people agreed to leave aside its fundamental rights in favour of their country’s growth. The authoritarian measures could not continue infinitely. Professor Legrand uses the American sociologist Davies’ J-Curve, in order show how starts a revolutionary movement.

The curve highlights the gap between reality and people’s expectation in function of the time. At one moment, the gap becomes unacceptable, people take conscience of their situation and start to protest. He then depicts the famous slogan “Bread – freedom – dignity” in order to explain the needs of the Egyptian population. Ines Kalaï underlines the influence by occidental liberal values, spread principally thanks to the web. “Ammar 404” reminds the “Error 404”, and represents the censorship which blocks some websites such as YouTube, Dailymotion or other news websites that occurred in Tunisia. New technologies such as smartphones an 3G allowed to by-pass the censorship and to spread the movement. Movement which started with the symbolical immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi followed by massive demonstrations. But while heads fall, it does not necessarily mean that the regime fall.

“Democratic transition and the European help”

Following Elyès Ghanmi, the Barcelona Declaration of 1995, which set up a partnership between EU countries, suffers from a deficit of credibility. He argues that “there was only a discourse of a high technocrat to a reluctant government” which put forward the need of an effort of legitimacy from the EU. Besides he compares the External Action of the EU under the Prodi’s presidency during the 2000’s and the actual which has not really changed, see the “3 Ms” – money, mobility and markets, while the need is the politics. Mr Ghanmi pursued by saying the European help is conditional, as reminded by president of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek.


Finally, the debate focusses on the term “legitimate”. Irnerio Seminatori argues that “legitimacy in invoked by people who wants the power”. But according to him, the authoritarian regime was in place by tradition. It is the modern State which questions this natural legitimacy and promotes the values as freedom and dignity. But he does not feel legitimate to intervene in traditional countries from outside. Even if they could shock our values, Qaddaffi or also Hussein regimes were legal and legitimate lying on traditional and historical basis. According to Seminatori “legitimacy does not always reflect the wish of the population”, reminding the Nietzschean “cold monster” when he talks about the modern State.

Finally, the answer to the question whether Arab spring is an opportunity for the EU is not very clear. It is a chance, in the way that it inspired the indignados movement all around Europe. It favoured people living in democracies to ask themselves about these modern liberal values. How really are them for the population itself. What do people really win in democracies pressured by a financial crisis and by austerity plans?

From another angle, the European Union has now the possibility to build a new dialogue with countries that are rebuilding themselves with values closer than the occidental ones. Now it does not mean that these are the best values but according to our principles they might be the more legitimate.

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