Publication International / Transnational - North Africa - Africa Our Help as a Threat

A contribution concerning the effect of «development aid» and «democracy promotion» in the Arab world. Policy Paper 1/2013 by Peter Schäfer.

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Policy Papers (en)

Author

Peter Schäfer,

Published

February 2013

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Since the resignations of Tunisia’s President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak at the latest, the USA, the European Union, and some of the latter’s member states have been talking about wanting to support the «democratic transformation» in these countries. That sounds like a change of mind on the part of Western states, as if they suddenly recognize that close cooperation with the former dictators was wrong, but now honestly intend to help the pursuit of democracy and freedom reach a breakthrough.

For many people in the region, however, these promises of help are a threat. The people are opposed to the interests
of the European Union and the USA: the prevention of «illegal» immigration, uninhibited access to the raw materials of the region, the security of Israel, and the «war against terror.» Unequal trade relations – that is to say, trade relations profitable for the West – can only be maintained if the governments of the states delivering raw materials are cooperative. And the «war on terror» – from which in practice usually the civilian population in targeted countries suffers – can only be continued if at least some of the regional governments participate in it, whether through political approval, the cooperation between intelligence services, financial support, or by providing military bases.

It’s clear that democratic Arab governments, representing among other things the majority opinion of their populations, will no longer be willing to engage in this type of cooperation with the West. The question, however, is whether they have any other option. Governments, economic systems, individual businesses, and the non-governmental sector in the region are all, to various degrees, dependent upon or otherwise constrained by loans and other financial assistance from the West. Changing this system would be a step with far-reaching consequences, especially for a country acting alone.

That’s why the schemes for supporting the movements for democracy in Egypt and Tunisia sound like saber-rattling in the ears of participants.

Current foreign intervention in Arab affairs and support for repressive regimes is seen in the region as part of an uninterrupted continuity of neo-colonial policy approaches in history. Direct or indirect European colonial rule is part of the past of all Arab states. Direct British control even extended into the 1960s, so the active memory of it still looms large. In some states, Europeans even installed the first «independent» governments, and contact with the old elites continued to be cultivated. And, through economic and/or military pressure, the West aggressively influenced the behavior of regional states up to the present day. The continuing use of arms against Iraq and Afghanistan are just the most obvious examples.

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