Where Oh Where Has the Mediterranean Union Gone?

tahrirWhatever has become of the Mediterranean Union? How come it has remained so strangely mute facing the revolution in Tunisia and in Egypt, voiceless on the meaning of this momentous protest movement against hunger and for the Rule of Law orchestrated everywhere by brave Arab young people from Algeria to Cairo, via Amman? Such silence is incomprehensible, whatever arguments of political realism may be advanced. It represents a slap in the face for the very spirit presiding over the foundation of this Union, one whose aim was clearly to enable, through the promotion of economic success, the advent of pluralist, mutually tolerant societies. Who can deny that? An unprecedented democratic conversion is taking place before our very eyes, and the only institution possessing the relevance and the courage to weld together North and South has gone off the air. Besides, this fact cannot be laid at the door of the resignation of its General Secretary, M. Massa'deh, in January.

Of course, all the political signals are still amber; democracy is by no means assured of retaining the upper hand in Tunisia or in Egypt. We must remain cautious. This transition could still be derailed into dramatic chaos, issuing a one-way ticket for a return to the past. Besides, who knows what the course of events in Jordan, Yemen or Algeria may still reserve? No doubt, the Union for the Mediterranean has no writ for the handling of political conflicts between states, « only » that of tackling the most urgent environmental and economic issues of the day. No doubt, as Charles de Gaulle once wrote, « the voices of angelism hardly lead on to those of Empire»...

But there it is, the « UFM » creature has escaped its creators, and by now it has already spawned true expectations, a firm belief in the fact that « whatever unites us is superior to whatever may disunite us », as Nicholas Sarkozy put it in his speech at Tangiers. Indeed, the struggle against poverty, for fundamental, basic rights like access to food, to put it in a nutshell, to experience the simple dignity  of being « human », lies surely at the heart of what unites the peoples of the Mediterranean, to the North, to the East, to the South.

Because the Union for the Mediterranean, over and beyond the institution itself, has today become a powerful magnifying glass in which Europe and the Arab countries see themselves mirrored. It is by no means a mere extra layer of diplomatic coating on the well-iced cake of national foreign policy manoeuvres. The Union for the Mediterranean provides an incentive for the peoples of the Mediterranean to get to know one another better.  In Europe, the Union puts the pressure on its citizens to kick their habits of amnesia concerning the nether shore, to re-explore their mnesic « black holes », in the words of Georges Corm (1). In the Arab countries, the Union comes to question the local regimes, the organised civil societies, the young people themselves, on the road forwards they wish to trace between the Scylla of Arab and/or national, and/or Muslim identity claims and the Charybdis of their desire to appropriate central western values. In other words, do some serious housecleaning in the excessive spillover of emotional reminiscences, with the reappropriation of a whole history at stake (2)...

To such a distorting « mirror effect » may be added a thoroughly positive form of « collateral damage »: one which has definitively destabilised the reassuring felicities of ignorance. It is no longer acceptable today to flunk the task of a re-assessment of the fundamental mythologies and symbols of the Mediterranean, over and beyond History itself. It is indeed a long and daunting task, meeting the challenge of rendering mutually intelligible the social, cultural and political interactions of all these peoples, but there is no opting out. Not merely for our greater intellectual joy or to quench our thirst for historical truths, but, first and foremost, so that the Mediterranean, to paraphrase Nietzsche, may again « become what it is », i.e. the leading economic, political and cultural power of the world.

The Union for the Mediterranean, whatever its form, confederal or associative, may turn out to be, has the capacity to embody the primeval symbol of the peoples of the Mediterranean, as encapsulated by History under oxymoric form: that of the sheer exuberance of life and yet of the sense of measure in all things characteristic of all its civilisations, be they Greek-Latin, Andalusian Judeo-Arab, or Christian-Rational, converging towards a possible cultural and political union. And let it be recalled that democracy alone will provide the appropriate tool for safely dosing so complex a mix.

The Union for the Mediterranean will thus, after the useful and necessary phase of repentance, regret and mutual accusation between the long-sundered shores, eschewing the fits of mutual spasmophilia shared by Arab and European alike, be finally in a position to embrace together the history of a century which has kicked off without them.

No doubt the whole historical importance of the French presidency of the G8 and the G20 - henceforth alone at the helm as co-president of the Union -  is to be sought there


Consultant, Lecturer, Fellow at Sciences Po Aix

(1) Georges Corm, Orient-Occident, La fracture imaginaire, La Découverte, Paris, 2002, et revue « Questions internationales » n°36, la Documentation française, mars-avril 2009, p 13-26.
(2) Amin Maalouf, Le dérèglement du monde, essai, éditions Grasset, 2009


>The WRW Dossier

>Read the original French-language version on WRW

>See Original publication in daily Le Monde

>Read Michel Camau's article on Europe's responsability in the longevity of Authoritarianism in Tunisia

>Read Patrick Hutchinson's French-language Editorial

>Read William Pfaff's article in the New York Review of Books

>See BBC live coverage and minute-by-minute Twitter feed on Cairo's Tahrir square

>Read what other Bloggers from Tahrir Square have to say

>Read Elodie Auffray's article: "Tunisia : "Social networks were a centerpiece of this revolution"

>Read Yasmine El Rachidi's Cairo Blog

>Read Gilbert Achkar's interview on the events in Cairo and Tunis on Znet

>Read Olivier Roy's article "Revolution post-islamiste" on le monde.fr

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