'Mediterranean Knot' Overview

Saturday, December 24, 2011

“Mediterranean Knot” is closely linked to the recent events that have taken place in the North African states of Tunisia, Libya and Egypt. This article is focused on Egyptian and Libyan issues, Italian and Moroccan outlooks and linked with other major players that influence the region such as EU, US, Israel, Turkey and Iran.
In Egyptian case the main reasons for revolution proved to be youth as a driving power, socio-economic factors as motivators and foreign influence as ignition. Though throughout last decade Egypt has demonstrated impressive GDP and economic growth as well as unemployment of only 9%, actual socio-economic situation proved to hold 40% of the total population of Egypt in poverty. At the same time youth, that proved to be the major part of population was dissatisfied with low salaries, monopoly in all the areas of socio-economical life, marginalization, visible and grand scale corruption and constant brutality from the security forces. Those factors led to the mobilization of forces by the youth that used mobile technology factor and social networks to unite. Reduction of socio-security mechanism and common dissatisfaction of people with Egyptian foreign policy only strengthened the resistance. All of these factors have led to the situation on Tahrir square. Current situation in Egypt proves to be largely dependent on military council. Military played one of the key roles in denunciation of Mubarak’s rule. Political transition was facilitated by the people’s masses, however instigated by the military. A lot of the same power groups are still in the country’s political sphere and it seems that military has no intention to transfer the power to civilian structures. From the beginning of the tensions in Egypt military was prepared to stir the process in any direction it needed. Egypt has seen the rise of old and the creation of new political parties. General mood of population proves to be flexible. Masses have not decided what they really want yet. Conservative mood prevails at the moment. Domestic situation is not grave these days, however if identity politics will prevail, the escalation of hostilities might arise. Non-traditional security threats are on the rise and will influence the region, even if they have not originated exclusively in Egypt. Main goal of the current authorities in Egypt right now is to deal with the root causes of instability. At the same time it is evident that tensions between the religious groups cover the whole political sector in Egypt. Tensions do not escalate to the conflict, thus Islamists are not likely to be antagonists to the democratic processes if they will be represented largely in power which does not include the scenario of radical Islam prevailing in the political sphere.
Turkish foreign policy in Mediterranean proved to be of the average, though direct, involvement and produces a lot of criticism. At the same time Turkey’s position shows that it was trying to create favorable environment for the processes to be peaceful in nature. In reality it seems Turkey was trying to fill power vacuums left in the wake of “Arab Spring”. Israel-Turkey relations are after-shock of such geopolitical game. Turkish foreign policy it seems was not prepared for “Arab Spring” at first. Turkey had to balance Tunisia and Egypt approach with quite different situations in Libya and Syria. In case of Syria Turkey was very careful not to make fast and rash decisions as did many other regional states. Best bid of Turkey was in prevention of militarization of the issues when at that point Israel was considered by Turkey as a rational actor. For the same reason Turkey argued against any sanctions towards Libya and Syria. Turkey’s strength in its position was that it previously concentrated on increasing its economical stability to enlarge political influence of itself. In addition Turkey have adopted the view that the only source of legitimacy is to meet the public demands and concerns. That decision came from realization that the only way for Turkey to compete with Iran in the region is to prove that Turkey can be a role model in liberal democratic manner. Many Turkish authors also agree that Turkey’s strive for western international community that would accept Turkey when it meets certain criteria created a balance between regional problems and internal democratic orientation. Thus Turkey was able to adopt the position of the EU and use it to extend its influence in the region. Rise of other key political actors in the region was also recalculated by Turkey after revolts in Arab world. At the same time rise of Turkish influence provoked corresponding opposition. Turkey’s attempts of depolarization of political environment in the Middle East are right now depend on its ability to solve its crisis with Israel. Current Turkish foreign policy sometimes might seem as neo-imperialistic in its nature, however Turkey is trying to play on self-authority rather than hard power. Such position is evident in Turkish attempts of mediation in Syrian crisis. Such mediation was basically based on European values and pressure mechanisms. General lack of success on part of Turkey in such mediation was due to large number of other strong actors involved in the process. Many analysts agree that  Turkey is currently trying to adopt EU policy – “if you want good relationship with us – go through the internal transformation to adapt to certain of our values”.
Outlook to the processes from Morocco reflects certain interesting geopolitical points and stresses that some of the North African states are stuck in “Cold War”. Disputes still linger between countries. States thus do not evolve politically, rather they concentrate on evolving economically. Border issues are roots of most problems of the North African region. Immigration, terrorism, drug trafficking are one of the main problems. The root of the crisis that struck the southern part of Mediterranean region is seen in the sole concentration on foreign policy and large disregard towards domestic issues. However key to shifting the focus inwards to the domestic problems is seen nowadays largely dependent on solving the external tensions first. Relationship between north and south of Mediterranean are again hampered by border disputes while the attempts of integration of Mediterranean region are failing. Most of the problems arise due to the different political situations of the states of the region. Internal reforms are very important factor for the stability in the troubled states of the region. Morocco for example was very slow on reforms due to the stagnation in “Cold War”, as it was trying to balance the policy between all regional and international key actors. Nowadays priority in Morocco is domestic affairs and reforms. And recent shift in foreign policy of Morocco is evident in that it was selected to the UN Security Council without the participation of African states.
EU foreign policy got struck by the Arab world uprising in most of the countries of Mediterranean region at the same time as EU was hit by economic crisis. Weak leadership and strategic planning of EU Mediterranean policy were reflected in Libyan crisis. Libya crisis stressed all weaknesses in military and political sphere of EU. Union itself was largely divided when dealing with Libyan crisis which resulted in intervention under NATO banner. Germany and Poland were among the leading states to oppose the intervention. EU foreign security policy suffered from such division gravely. EU generally lacks teeth to successfully enforce its political will due to internal disagreements and conflict of interests. That misbalance led to the NATO participation on one side of civil war. Moreover, Libya might become precedent for future security strategy of EU. Economic crisis in EU still hampers its military policy. Aside from that, the US in its turn is not generally happy with EU inability to act on its own. EU military spending cut threatens its contributions to global security. EU needs better resources management and strategic thinking and planning when it comes to the situations of armed crisis. Libya was in many respects a success story of EU engagement in foreign geopolitical game, at the same time it is large EU faults indicator. EU needs to revolutionize geostrategic vision and strive for leadership in neighboring regions. EU should switch from migration issues and focus more on its foreign policy and partnership programmes. EU can cooperate with Turkey to establish joint foreign policy projects and advance towards Arab world. At first the EU was only actively involved in the Mediterranean region when it came to economical cooperation, not the development of its democratization policy. Hence Arab spring was a surprise for EU. Union was very slow to react on the ignition of the Arab world. Lack of swiftness in actions was due to EU’s concentration on a lot of economic and security matters, not on democratization processes. Transformation of balance of power occurred after Arab Spring resulting in the lowering of western influence in the region, thus empowering Iran. Changes in the whole system in Mediterranean region can result in rise of new threats for EU. Union itself is deeply dependant on the oil from countries in the Middle East. EU strategy should be adjusted to answer new situation and assist with democratic transitions for Mediterranean region. Today Union has started to adopt incentives based approach and engage in political modernization of the region. Scenarios for the future transitions from EU perspective can be variable from radical, military, democratization, civil war up to chaos state. Rise of Islamic radicalism is very probable, especially if the economic transitions that are very important for democratization processes and at the same time are very hard and time consuming, will be taken into account.
Italian perspective to the Mediterranean states consumed by the uprising crisis was most conflicting. Italy has a lot of interests in region as well as its EU concerns. These interests largely overlap. At the same time colonial past obliges Italy with certain degree of responsibility towards, for example Libya. Libya in its turn plays critical role in Italian energy policy. Immigration policies ties Italy to Libya and other countries in Mediterranean region as well. Berlusconi ties with Gaddafi were to such extent that they’ve been criticized even in Italy. Energy and liberation were two main issues of Italy in Libyan crisis. Oil thus was a serious factor in Gaddafi regime downgrading. Libyan crisis in its turn contributed to Italian fears of geopolitical marginalization. Italy was almost politically forced to support Libyan intervention. Current position of Italy is seemingly that Libya requires national reconciliation process that can be facilitated with help of EU and Italy. Some Italian authors argue that the main challenges for Libya will be reconstruction of its economy as well as domestic political situation while establishing legitimacy.
US imperatives in Mediterranean are quite open. Preservation of Israeli and Egyptian peace is one of the main objectives. At the same time countering Iran that has interest in lowering pressure on Libya through influencing Egypt, is one of the secondary objectives. Israelis on their part have ambitions to become major power substituting Egypt after it fell to the disarray. Military handling of political transition of Egypt is vital in the US strategic planning. The US see Egypt as a security guarantee for the region. Opposition in Egypt right now is much divided and military is overcoming. Many forces would like to use today’s moment of uncertainty in Egypt to their respective advantage. Hamas wants to weaken military regime, to then use Egypt against Israel. Egyptian political scene sees Israel-Palestinian card as a bid to use in the process of gaining power. Muslim brotherhood opposes Hamas, preventing it from taking over in crisis. US interested in securing and stabilizing Suez canal region that it will take into account Egyptian military factor. At the same time US do not disregard the influence of Turkey in the region and will use it when balancing the pressure on the region with Israel, though Israeli policy needs to be revised in respect of the current changes.
All in all it seems that “Mediterranean Knot” is still to be untied in the scale of geopolitical events that the future will bring us. However, the situation can be only aggravated with the escalation of violence and destabilization of the region. Only time will show the result.

Kamal Makili-Aliyev
Doctor of Laws (LL.D)

About the author

Donec non enim in turpis pulvinar facilisis. Ut felis. Praesent dapibus, neque id cursus faucibus. Aenean fermentum, eget tincidunt.